(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Vince Mazzeo, Raj Mukherji, Joann Downey and Benjie Wimberly to ensure that opioid antidotes are available to help prevent overdoses was approved by the full Senate, 38-0, on Thursday.
The bill (A-2334) would expand public access to opioid antidotes, such as naloxone hydrochloride, by amending the provisions of the "Overdose Prevention Act" (OPA) in order to allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone to any person, without a prescription, pursuant to a standing order issued by a prescriber or, upon request by the pharmacist, pursuant to a standing order issued by the Commissioner of Health or the Deputy Commissioner for Public Health Services.
"This bill takes a different approach in permitting individual pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription, pursuant to a standing order issued by the Department of Health," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "Ultimately, this means the possibility of more lives saved if a pharmacist doesn't have to obtain an individual order from a physician each time."
Currently, a number of large chain pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS, have announced that they are making naloxone available to anyone without a prescription through what appears to be a standing order issued by a doctor, which is currently authorized under the OPA.
"Naloxone has proven to be a life-saver. And each life we save provides another chance to get that person into addiction treatment and hopefully put them on the road to recovery and a vastly different outcome," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).
The bill stipulates, in particular, that a licensed pharmacist may dispense an opioid antidote to any patient who is deemed to be capable of administering the same, regardless of whether that patient presents an individual prescription for the antidote. Protocols would have to be consistent with the provisions of the OPA, and must require a pharmacist to determine that the patient seeking the antidote is capable of administering the same to an overdose victim in an emergency.
"Broadening the authority to dispense naloxone without a prescription will help small and independent pharmacies, in particular, that may have more difficulty partnering with a prescriber to obtain a standing order," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "The more accessible it is, the more chances we have to save lives."
"Eliminating delays will hopefully make naloxone more widely available to prevent a life-threatening overdose," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "If we can expand our ability to take this first step in saving a life and getting someone on the path to overcoming addiction, we as lawmakers have a responsibility to make the effort."
"Given the fact that some pharmacies are already able to obtain a standing order to dispense naloxone to great effect, it makes sense to enable all pharmacies to do the same," said Downey (D-Monmouth). "Accessibility and timeliness can make all the difference when it comes to these types of life-threatening scenarios."
"People battling addiction may shy away from seeing doctors for a number of reasons," said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "Allowing pharmacists to dispense this proven life-saver without a prescription may mean the difference between life and death for those individuals."
Any pharmacist who acts in good faith, and in accordance with the bill's requirements, in supplying an opioid antidote to a patient without a prescription, would be immune under the OPA from any civil or criminal liability or any professional disciplinary action stemming from such act.
The measure was unanimously approved by the full Assembly on March 23 and now, goes to the Governor for further consideration.