Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine introduced legislation to help prevent opioid overdose deaths by encouraging physicians to co-prescribe the life-saving drug naloxone alongside opioid prescriptions and by making naloxone more widely available in federal health settings. TheCo-prescribing Saves Lives Act will enable more health professionals to get naloxone – a safe and effective antidote to opioid overdoses – into the homes of people who are at-risk of overdose.
“In every corner of Virginia, the drug abuse epidemic is hurting families, challenging local law enforcement and leaving businesses without a capable workforce,” said Kaine. “A particularly heartbreaking aspect of this crisis is that many of the deaths from opioid and heroin overdoses could have been prevented. My bill would increase access to medication that can save someone’s life during an overdose and establish clear prescribing guidelines that will help get vital information about opioids to doctors and patients.”
In 2014, more Virginians died from opioid overdoses than vehicle crashes. Nationwide, heroin and opioids account for approximately 25,000 American deaths per year. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, reversed more than 26,000 overdose cases between 1996 and 2014. In the Senate, Kaine has helped lead efforts to combat the drug abuse epidemic, including introducing legislation to hold the FDA accountable for the approval of new opioid drugs by ensuring experts’ voices are heard as new and potentially dangerous medications are considered for approval. In June, Kaine joined U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin to introduce legislation aimed at providing safer and more effective pain management services through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). In March, Kaine introducedlegislation to protect first responders, health professionals and family members who are educated in administering an opioid overdose prevention drug in an emergency situation of overdose. In August of 2014, Kaine participated in a Project REVIVE training session in Lebanon, Virginia where he learned how to administer naloxone to someone suffering from an overdose.
The Co-prescribing Saves Lives Act would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish physician education and co-prescribing guidelines for federal health settings, including VA hospitals, DOD hospitals, Indian health service facilities and Federally-Qualified Health Centers. Additionally, the bill would authorize a program to grant state Departments of Health funding that would help them establish co-prescribing guidelines, purchase naloxone, and fund training for health professionals and patients.
“Senator Kaine’s bill is a welcome and much needed approach to protecting those afflicted with opioid addiction from potential accidental overdose death. It also improves the base of knowledge among physicians about appropriate prescribing of opioid medications and their associated risk. As an impacted parent, I understand intimately the need for both,” said Don Flattery of Alexandria, who lost his son Kevin to opioid abuse.
“The Northern Shenandoah Substance Abuse Coalition, working in conjunction with the Northwest Virginia Drug Task Force, appreciate the support of Senator Kaine in his efforts to make physicians more aware of the dangers of overprescribing opioid based drugs. We believe that the reduction in opioid prescriptions, combined with greater accessibility to naloxone, will help save lives,” said Winchester Chief of Police Kevin Sanzenbacher, who serves as Chair of the Northern Shenandoah Substance Abuse Coalition and the Northwest Virginia Drug Task Force.
“This legislation is an important component in the battle for healthy and sustainable communities. This resource will support both prevention and education for the opiate and heroin epidemic that is ravaging our communities. Increased physician training and clear prescription guidelines will prevent overdose deaths and facilitate treatment. Those in prevention, education, treatment, and recovery must join together to curb this epidemic.
Together, we can save lives and breathe life into our community,” said Nancy Hans, Executive Director of the Prevention Council in Roanoke and Chair of Community Coalitions of Virginia.
“Within the greater Fredericksburg community, we have progressively seen an increase in the number of individuals seeking services who are addicted to synthetic opioids and heroin. The Rappahannock Area Community Services Board (RACSB) carries a supply of Naloxone at our outpatient clinics and residential crisis stabilization program. Family members in our community impacted by addiction or who have lost loved ones due to an overdose will embrace all measures to prevent other families from experiencing the same tragedy. We support proactive legislation to increase access to Naloxone for families and individuals challenged by addiction,” said Ronald W. Branscome, Executive Director of the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board.
“Senator Kaine’s dedication to reversing the prescription opioid and heroin overdose epidemic is very much appreciated by the citizens of Southwest Virginia. This important legislation will help place the life-saving medication naloxone in the hands of the family members of patients at risk of overdose from heroin and prescription opioids. Expanding access to naloxone through key federal programs will result in lives being saved. In addition, prescribers and pharmacists will be educated about appropriate prescribing and dispensing of opioid medications and the need to co-prescribe naloxone. We look forward to continuing our work with Senator Kaine to reverse the devastating consequences of opioid and heroin abuse,” said Dr. Sarah Melton, Chair of One Care of Southwest Virginia and a board certified psychiatric pharmacist.
The Co-prescribing Saves Lives Act has also been endorsed by the Harm Reduction Coalition, the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the McShin Foundation.