Legislation Will Ensure First Responders are Adequately Supplied with Opioid Antidotes
An Assembly panel on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Vince Mazzeo, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Patricia Jones and Daniel Benson to help prevent heroin overdoses in New Jersey by ensuring that first responders and hospitals always have an ample supply of opioid antidotes to administer.
"Last year Atlantic County had the highest per capita rate of fatal heroin overdoses in the entire state," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "The administration of Narcan has proven highly effective in saving lives, but it's only effective if we have adequate supplies on hand in the event of an emergency. We've lost too many young lives to this terrible epidemic, and we need to make sure first responders and hospitals are always ready and able to save lives."
The bill was inspired, in part, by a Community Town Hall Meeting Mazzeo sponsored last year at Atlantic Cape Community College where over 150 people attended to bring more awareness to the crisis and help generate new ideas to fight this epidemic, as well as reports in the press about police departments running out of the antidote over the course of several weekends.
"Last year, Bergen County law enforcement officers used Narcan 187 times, saving 170 lives as a result," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "We need to make sure this life-saving drug is readily available. If we can save lives, we stand a fighting chance of getting them into treatment and on the road to recovery."
Specifically, the bill (A-2183) would amend New Jersey's "Overdose Prevention Act" in order to require each county health department to obtain, through a standing order, and to maintain in an accessible storage location, a healthy reserve stock of opioid antidotes for interim dispensation to first responders and hospital pharmacies within its jurisdiction.
Under amendments approved, schools may also acquire an interim supply from a county health department, provided the school has adopted a policy to acquire, store, and administer opioid antidotes that is consistent with the "Overdose Prevention Act"
"Camden County has one of the highest heroin use rates in the state. As we work to address the bigger picture of this growing heroin epidemic, it's important that we do all we can to prevent tragic overdoses," said Jones (D-Camden). "This bill will ensure that everyone on the front line is adequately supplied with this life-saving drug."
"Last year, officers used Narcan on 80 occasions in Mercer County, 33 times in Hamilton alone," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "Sadly, there were also 38 heroin overdoses in Mercer County last year. We need to make sure Narcan is widely available to our first responders so we can save lives first and then get them on the path to treatment and recovery."
The bill specifies that whenever a first responder, first response entity, a hospital pharmacy or school in the county anticipates the exhaustion of their supply of opioid antidotes, the county health department will be required to promptly provide the first responder or first response entity with an interim supply of opioid antidotes from the reserve stock that is maintained pursuant to the bill's provisions.
Any first responder, first response entity, hospital pharmacy or school that obtains an interim supply of opioid antidotes from the reserve stock would be responsible for repaying the county health department for the costs associated with the department's acquisition and delivery of such interim supply. The bill would expressly authorize the various county health departments in the state to enter into shared service agreements, in accordance with the state's "Uniform Shared Services and Consolidation Act" in order to facilitate the acquisition of heroin antidotes at discounted rates and minimize delivery costs.
The bill would require the Commissioner of Human Services to establish rules and regulations to identify the manner and timeframe in which a first responder, first response entity, hospital pharmacy or school must notify the respective county health department about the need for interim opioid antidote supplies under the bill's provisions.
Finally, the bill would specify, consistent with the existing provisions of the Overdose Prevention Act, that any county health department or employee of a county health department that provides a first responder, first response entity, hospital pharmacy or school with an interim supply of opioid antidotes from the reserve stock will be immune from criminal or civil liability, or any disciplinary action, in association with the provision of such interim supply.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.