Ore. bill would make naloxone easier to access
If approved, naloxone would be available for free in many places, and first responders would be empowered to distribute naloxone kits to the public
By Nicole Hayden
SALEM, Ore. — A bill to make the lifesaving drug that reverses opioid overdoses easier to access gained overwhelming approval from lawmakers in the Oregon House on Monday, passing on a 48-9 vote.
It now moves to the Senate.
House Bill 2395, introduced by Rep. Maxine Dexter, D-Portland, aims to combat a surge in opioid deaths by making the overdose reversal medication naloxone more readily available to the public, among other provisions. Naloxone, also known by its brand name Narcan, can be administered via a nasal spray after fentanyl, heroin or other opioids are ingested to prevent a fatal overdose.
In Oregon, an average of three people die each day from unintentional drug overdoses, and fentanyl overdose deaths increased nearly 600% from between 2019 and 2021, according to written testimony provided by Rachael Banks, Oregon Health Authority public health director.
Fentanyl contributed to 32% of the 193 deaths of unhoused people in Multnomah County in 2021, according to the latest “Domicile Unknown” report, produced each year by the Multnomah County Health Department, the Medical Examiner’s Office and Street Roots, a local homelessness nonprofit.
If passed, the bill would break down barriers to obtaining naloxone by making it available for free in public buildings including libraries and churches, among other places. Police, firefighters and emergency medics would also be allowed to distribute naloxone kits to drug users, family members and others who may come in contact with people with the potential to overdose.
Fentanyl testing strips, which alert users to the presence of the more potent synthetic opioid, would also be decriminalized under the bill. While the Oregon Health Authority advises testing strips for harm reduction, they are currently considered drug paraphernalia under state law.
The bill would also allow minors to receive outpatient addiction treatment and enable educators to administer naloxone to an overdosing student, both without parental consent.
Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, said in written testimony that the state has to focus on harm reduction as one of its strategies for combating the opioid public health crisis.
“Drug addiction is an issue not limited to any singular segment, demographic or geographic area of Oregon,” she said. “The issue touches every community in Oregon with the gravest impacts disproportionally affecting our state’s most vulnerable communities and youth.”
Currently, Oregonians can only obtain naloxone with a prescription – which they can get if they are taking prescription opioids or if someone they know uses opioids – or if they are an active user who visits a state certified needle exchange. Insurance providers may cover the cost if the individual is taking a doctor-prescribed opioid but likely won’t cover the often high cost of naloxone if someone is seeking it to have on hand for someone else, according to the Oregon Health Authority. Active users can get the drug for free without a prescription by visiting any of the 22 state certified needle exchange sites in Oregon and taking a 20-minute training.
While the bill received support from both sides of the aisle, a handful of Republicans opposed the measure, saying more needs to be done to prevent drug use and expressing concerns about specific provisions in the bill. Bobby Levy, R-Echo, said she opposes the bill because it allows minors to access substance use treatment without parental consent and it makes things like clean needles easier to access, which she believes will enable drug users.
The bill, however, has received broad support from a variety of interest groups including those representing education, public safety, public health and social service organizations.
“It is not a coincidence that there is such a broad coalition behind this bill to expand access to harm reduction supplies,” said Nick Keough, legislative director for the Oregon Student Association, which represents students at community colleges and public universities. “We know the opioid crisis is having such immense impacts on our communities across the state.”
Keough said the college students his group represents identified the bill as one of their top legislative priorities.
“Students came to us with this,” Keough told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “Students were trying to distribute fentanyl testing strips on campus, which were classified as drug paraphernalia under state law, so the college decided it would be a violation.”
Kavi Shrestha, University of Oregon student body vice president said the university also wouldn’t let the student government use school funds to purchase naloxone. The student government has had to work with local nonprofits to obtain the drug, Shrestha said.
In his written testimony to the Legislature, Keough described the death of University of Oregon student Emanuel “Manny” Dreilling who fatally overdosed on oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl. He was found dead by a friend on Christmas Eve 2020. Keough said if harm reduction supplies would have been available, “Dreilling may still be alive today.”
The impacts of opioids have been felt at the high school level as well.
“Beaverton School District has lost several youth in our community in recent years to unintentional overdose from fake prescription pills containing fentanyl,” Beaverton School District Superintendent Gustavo Baldera said in written testimony. “Teens may purchase what they think are OxyContin, Percocet or Xanax pills via social media, but what they get are fake pills with the cheaper, stronger and more deadly synthetic opioid drug fentanyl.”
Julie Ibrahim, director of New Narratives, an organization that provides homelessness services including housing, peer support programs and mental health care, said her organization has attempted to stock up on naloxone for years but has faced licensing challenges.
“We were not able to obtain naloxone for free or even at a discount, so we paid full price,” she said in written testimony. Three days after they stocked their offices with the drug last year, she said an individual came in seeking help for her partner who had overdosed but was saved because New Narratives staff was able to administer the drug.
“By removing the red tape and reducing the cost of naloxone and other evidence-based harm reduction strategies, agencies such as ours will be better able to serve our communities and save lives,” she said.
©2023 Advance Local Media LLC.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.