Battling Back

LITTLE ROCK - It’s not every session that our legislators have the opportunity to pass a law that can have an immediate impact.

But during the 2017 General Assembly, they had the chance to approve life-saving legislation, and they did. The law allows pharmacists to dispense a critical drug without a prescription.

The drug, naloxone, is an antidote for an opioid overdose. For several years, first-responders have carried naloxone kits for victims of overdoses of legal opioids and of heroin.

In 2015, the Benton Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Kirk Lane, was the first police department in the state to equip officers with the kits. I recently appointed Chief Lane as the state’s director of drug-abuse prevention, and he is spreading the news of the urgent need for the antidote.

Independence County Sheriff Shawn Stephens knows first-hand the importance of Narcan, which is the brand name of the drug. Thirty-five members of his department, including school resource officers, keep the antidote at hand.

Back in May, Sheriff Stephens responded to the frantic calls that a man in his county was planning to kill himself. He was able to talk to the man by telephone and persuaded the man to reveal his location.

Sheriff Stephens found the man lying in a ditch. The man couldn’t stand. He was slurring his words. The sheriff administered a dose of naloxone and checked the time. After two minutes, as the sheriff was about to give a second dose of the nasal spray, the man opened his eyes. Soon he could speak clearly enough for the sheriff to understand him.

Medics arrived, and they took the man to the hospital.

That is one of five times Independence County sheriff’s employees have used naloxone since March, when the county started the program.

Several other law-enforcement agencies, including the Arkansas State Police, the Pulaski Sheriff’s Office and the Maumelle Police Department have been using naloxone.

Between September 2016 and August, first responders administered naloxone at least 35 times in Pulaski County.

Until the naloxone protocol went into effect in early September, you needed a prescription from a doctor to purchase it. Under the new legislation, this important antidote is available to anyone in need from the pharmacy. Now, if you use opioids, or if a family member or friend does, you may obtain naloxone to have on hand in case of an overdose, whether intentional or accidental.

There are a couple of things to understand about naloxone. The reversal effect lasts less than an hour. Immediate emergency medical care is necessary.

Secondly, naloxone is not a cure for an addiction. It is an antidote that keeps you alive long enough to get to a doctor and seek treatment as necessary.

Our legislators have done the state a tremendous service by allowing pharmacists to dispense the drug to anyone they think need it, including teachers and others who may come in contact with someone who has overdosed.

We still have much to do in eliminating the abuse of drugs. But I am grateful that we have naloxone, which will save lives.