By: Matt Sledge, 02/04/2014
A bill meant to stem deaths from heroin overdoses advanced in the New York Senate Tuesday, just days after actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent drug overdose.
Sponsored by State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R), the bill would increase access to naloxone, a special drug that can reverse overdoses from heroin and other opioids. Introduced before Hoffman’s death, it passed out of the state Senate’s Health Committee unanimously on Tuesday.
Naloxone has been credited with reversing at least 10,000 overdoses since 1996, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But because it is a prescription drug, it is often difficult to administer it in time to the patients who need it most. Hannon’s bill would allow doctors to write general orders allowing naloxone training organizations to distribute the drug to anyone who takes a short training course. Non-profit groups like VOCAL-NY believe it will allow them to greatly expand naloxone access.
It’s not clear that the drug could have helped Hoffman, who was apparently alone when he overdosed. But Matt Curtis of VOCAL-NY said that since Hoffman’s death, the actor’s name has come up constantly in conversation with legislators and staff.
“The bill is only a week old so it’s moving very fast from our point of view, which is great,” he said in an email.
A companion measure has been introduced in the state Assembly by Jeffrey Dinowitz (D). Both bills are meant to build on the success of an earlier state “Good Samaritan” law that protects people from prosecution if they call 911 to report an overdose.
At least 16 states have some version of a Good Samaritan law, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Health Foundation’s Law Atlas. More seem to be following as part of a “harm reduction” strategy to reduce deaths from drug abuse.
“New York has shown strong bipartisan cooperation when it comes to responding to the overdose crisis affecting families across our state,” Gabriel Sayegh, the New York state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement. “Tragedies like the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s apparent overdose death over the weekend draw attention to an ongoing public health crisis that we can and should be doing more to address.”