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Bill Expanding Access to Life Saving Drug Takes Effect Wednesday

Perry Bennett
West Virginia Legislative Photography
Speaker Tim Armstead and Senate Majority Leaders Mitch Carmichael on the final night of the 2015 session.

As Republican lawmakers prepared to take the helm of both the state House of Delegates and Senate for the first time in more than 80 years this legislative session, they were questioned over and over again about their priorities. Those priorities became clear on the first day of the session when Speaker Tim Armstead and Senate President Bill Cole introduced the first 15 bills their party would pursue. 

Number nine of those 15: the Opioid Antagonist Act. 

“So many families have been affected by [addiction]," Armstead said of the bill. “Addiction to drugs is a huge challenge for our state and if we’re going to really put our house in order and move our state forward, we have to address it.”

While versions of the bill were introduced that first day in both chambers, the bill lawmakers ultimately approved came from Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, whose family has also been affected by the drugs.

The Legislation:

  1. Expands access to Naloxone from EMTs and paramedic to all first responders, including police.
  2. Allows family members and friends of addicts to obtain a prescription for Naloxone from a health care provider.
  3. Calls on that health care provider to prescribe the medication "in good faith," meaning that the person receiving the prescription intends to use the drug  for a good reason.
  4. Provides immunity from any legal action to both prescribers and administrators of Naloxone.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning the drug reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Opioids include drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and heroin.
It can be administered either through an autoinjector or nasal spray and, once in a person systems, coats the opioid receptors in the body blocking the drug. If followed with more medical treatment, the drug can save a person's life.

“The leadership team thought this saves lives," Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael said, but not everyone saw the passage of the bill that way. Some lawmakers thought the expansion of Naloxone looked as if they were condoning drug use.

"Other states have done this and implemented it. It’s not like we’ve got some radical agenda here," Carmichael said, "and it was the right thing to do.”

The bill takes effect Wednesday, May 27.

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