Legislation aims to increase patient access to lifesaving opioid antagonists

NASHVILLE – Legislation that would expand patient access to lifesaving opioid antagonists used to combat opioid overdose is headed to the Senate floor for final consideration after receiving approval in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee this week. Senate Bill 2403, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), would require the Tennessee Department of Health to draft a Collaborative Pharmacy Practice Agreement where standards and parameters are to be outlined for the dispensing of the medication by pharmacists.

An antagonist is a drug that blocks opioids by attaching to the opioid receptors without activating them. Opioid overdoses can be accidental from a legitimately obtained prescribed medication or as a result of the abuse of prescription opioids or heroin, and can result in death of not treated promptly.

“Prescription drug overdoses and especially overdoses of opioid pain killers continue to be a very serious problem in Tennessee,” said Sen. Overbey. “This bill expands patient access to this lifesaving medication and promotes continued collaboration between pharmacists and other healthcare providers to help ensure effective strategies for the prevention and treatment of opioid overdose.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44 people die as a result of prescription opioid overdose every day in the United States. Among people 25 to 64 years old, drug overdose caused more deaths than motor vehicles crashes. The prevalence of opioid drug overdose has become such a problem that the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Program, which covers Blount County, has provided aid for law enforcement access to naloxone and narcan, two of the most commonly used antagonists.

Under the bill, a pharmacist must complete an opioid antagonist training program approved by the Department of Health related to opioid antagonist therapy within the previous two years to dispense the medication. It also establishes immunity from disciplinary or adverse administrative actions, as well as immunity from civil liability, if dispensed pursuant to a valid statewide collaborative pharmacy practice agreement.

“Opioid antagonists are life-saving drugs, and the ultimate goal is not to have to use them, but rather to educate people so that prescription opioids are not misused or, in the case of those who are addicted, to get them into treatment to stop an overdose before it happens,” added Overbey. “This is just one of a multifaceted approach to confronting this growing problem in our state.”

At least 24 other states either have enacted legislation or introduced a bill to give pharmacists some level of authority to dispense opioid antagonists at their discretion.

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