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A state Senate bill making an overdose-reversal medication available at pharmacies statewide is headed to the House with strong bipartisan support.

The House Judiciary I Committee on Wednesday unanimously recommended approval of Senate Bill 734. The Senate passed the bill by a 49-0 vote May 17.

The bill would make the drug naloxone, also known as Narcan, available without a prescription statewide, as is the case already in 15 other states.

The drug reverses opiate overdose by blocking the brain’s opioid receptors. It is harmless to people not experiencing an opioid overdose.

Naloxone is injected into a muscle, under the skin or into a vein through an IV. The Food and Drug Administration approved a nasal-spray version in November.

The authorization would permit a medical standing order to be issued for the medication by Dr. Randall Williams, the deputy secretary for health services for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and apply to all pharmacists.

Current state law allows naloxone to be dispensed by prescription or a physician’s standing order.

Under the Good Samaritan/naloxone-access law passed in 2013, a county EMS medical director can provide the standing order for law enforcement and first responders to use the drug. According to the DHHS, 56 law-enforcement agencies, including those in Forsyth County, have personnel who carry naloxone. Forty-six of the agencies have used the drug to reverse a potential overdose.

The bill’s approval would expand the number of people who could prescribe naloxone to include medical personnel who normally do not have the authorization to prescribe and/or supply specified medicines and controlled drugs. North Carolina would become the third state to grant this level of preapproval.

Training in the use of naloxone would be required before family members could receive the prescription.

“We believe North Carolina reached a tipping point in 2015 where there were more overdose reversals than overdose deaths,” Williams told the committee. “There were more deaths from opioid overdose in North Carolina than from guns and cars.

“One in four autopsies is for opioids. It’s overwhelming our system and becoming a public health crisis for our state. We want to remove barriers to anonymous access for this life-saving drug.

Several House members recommended tracking individuals who receive the drug to determine how often they have overdosed and to encourage them to get help.

“We hope it will be a great motivator, a move to therapy, for the people who receive the medicine to change their lives and help them treat their addiction,” Williams said. He said he is not aware of the drug encouraging additional opioid abuse.

According to the DHHS, more than 23,000 overdose rescue kits have been distributed since August 2013. CVS Health made naloxone available in its North Carolina pharmacies on March 31 under a physician-approved protocol permitted by the state.

Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, said the expanded availability of naloxone can’t be viewed “as a silver bullet” without further assistance to such initiatives as Project Lazarus.

Project Lazarus, which began as a pilot program in Wilkes in 2008, has become a statewide initiative. It is known for providing anti-overdose kits to at-risk patients who are starting methadone treatment in an attempt to kick opioid addictions.

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rcraver@wsjournal.com (336) 727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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