Letter to the Editor
To the Editor:
This Thursday, the Senate will be voting on HB 271, a bill to increase access to the life-saving emergency medication Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, which temporarily reverses an opiate-induced overdose. The bill passed the House unanimously, and the Senate Health & Human Services Committee has also offered a unanimous recommendation of Ought to Pass. It has been such a pleasure to see that New Hampshire legislators are working together to help with the addiction problem that is overwhelming our communities.
Narcan is a pure opioid antagonist, blocking the opiate receptor for about 20 minutes – just long enough for an ambulance to arrive. The purpose of Narcan is to bridge the gap until medical help is available. From the onset of overdose, a person has about 5 minutes before brain damage begins. I spoke to a nurse, Joann, who works at Frisbie Hospital in the intensive care unit. She told me that she cares for many people who’ve suffered extensive brain damage after an overdose. She said that the damage is irreversible and most people subsist on life-support until their parents finally accept the situation, making the decision to end care and allow their child to die. Joann also told me that the majority of these patients are uninsured, which I imagine comes at a huge expense to the hospital and the state.
During HB 271’s journey through the Statehouse, I’ve fielded a lot of questions. For example, “Won’t Narcan just encourage people to use more heroin, because they think they have a safety net?” It’s a valid concern, but I’m glad to say that this concern is unnecessary. In the 32 states that have passed similar legislation, they’re seeing a reduction in overdose deaths, not an increase. According to a study performed in Washington State after the passage of Narcan legislation, those trained in administering Narcan actually became likely to use less heroin. The availability of Narcan necessitates an education in risk. In some cases, people stopped using heroin altogether. In 2014, Massachusetts had about 50 percent fewer overdose deaths than our state had. They implemented a Narcan distribution program a few years ago.
It’s also financially unlikely that someone could rely on Narcan to avoid a trip to the ER entirely. A dose of Narcan runs about $30-50 and is effective for about 20 minutes. At that point, the overdose begins again. It is for this reason that so many people are given a direct IV drip of Narcan in the hospital, to keep them alive until the opiate fully wears off. A person would have to spend thousands on Narcan to successfully outlast the opiate and avoid calling 911. It’s simply implausible that anyone would use more heroin because they have access to Narcan. If someone’s EpiPen only works for 20 minutes, would they be more likely to eat peanuts?
Narcan does not have the potential for abuse – people cannot “get high” off of it. In fact, the drug’s effect is painful sobriety, causing immediate withdrawal symptoms. It’s also important to point out that HB 271 has no fiscal note. This legislation spends zero tax dollars; it simply aims to deregulate who may access this medication, although still by prescription. Those who need Narcan will purchase it with their own money. I can’t imagine why any Senator wouldn’t support this legislation on May 7. Narcan has proven its effectiveness in over half the country. Our state is the last in New England without a Narcan law. If Senators look at this bill logically, taking into consideration the facts and studies, they will see that this is a very intelligent move for New Hampshire. The bill aims to disrupt Tym Rourke’s prediction of 1,000 overdose deaths and stem the tide of death in our state.
The people that want to see this bill pass are parents of drug users who are desperate to keep their children alive one more day, in the hopes that a bed will open up at a treatment center, or the next paycheck will cover treatment. May they be granted the right to keep their children alive one more day, in the interest of a better tomorrow?
NH State Rep
State Rep. Amanda Bouldin, D-Manchester, was elected in 2014. She is a sponsor of HB 271 and represents Manchester’s Ward 5.