Heroin overdose antidote could soon be available over the counter in N.J.

Susan K. Livio, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

TRENTON -- The drug used to reverse a heroin overdose that has saved more than 10,000 lives in New Jersey would be available at pharmacies without a prescription, under a bill the state Assembly approved Thursday.

The lower house approved the legislation by a 74-0 vote, sending it to the Senate for a final vote. Although he has not publicly commented on the bill, Gov. Chris Christie is expected to sign it into law, as he has made combatting heroin and opioid addiction a hallmark of his administration.

Christie signed an emergency order in 2014 allowing the state's 28,000 emergency medical technicians to administer the antidote if they were trained on how to use it. The drug, better known by its commercial name, Narcan, is available through schools.

Heroin and opioid-drug overdoses killed 1,600 people in New Jersey in 2015.

The bill (A2334) would expand public access to opioid antidotes, such as naloxone hydrochloride by allowing individual pharmacists to dispense the drug to any person without a prescription without having to obtain permission from a doctor.

"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," said Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Mercer), one of the bill's prime sponsors.

Walgreens and CVS are making naloxone available, according to Benson's statement. The drug is better known by its brand name, Narcan.

"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 Assemblywoman Valeri Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), also a sponsor.