CONCORD — Continued funding and statewide distribution of the opioid reversal drug naloxone is getting a resounding endorsement from a legislative commission.
Since 2015, state public health officials have used federal grants to distribute thousands of “overdose prevention kits” using naloxone, better known as Narcan.
Narcan kits have been distributed to law enforcement agencies, emergency rooms, community health centers and community groups in the hope of curtailing the death rate from the opioid addiction crisis.
A special legislative commission has spent the past year studying the program and is calling for it to continue, along with other efforts to make the drug more available statewide.
“We aren’t going to treat addiction with Narcan, but we are going to save lives,” said state Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, chairman of the Commission to Study Narcan, appointed by vote of the Legislature in 2016.
In addition to evaluating the effectiveness of the statewide distribution program, the commission was asked to examine many other aspects of Narcan use, including creation of a registry of Narcan users.
The commission, with 14 members representing a wide range of stakeholders, met on Tuesday to review its report one last time before the deadline of Nov. 1 for submitting its recommendations.
In its final report, it will call for continued distribution of “overdose prevention kits” statewide, with accompanying information on the state’s Good Samaritan Law, which protects individuals who call 911 during an overdose from criminal prosecution.
The commission is recommending against establishing a registry of people in possession of Narcan, arguing that a formal registry might discourage opiate users from obtaining the drug.
It is also recommending against mandatory reporting of Narcan use, beyond data currently collected from EMS calls.
The commission was asked to evaluate whether people who receive Narcan to reverse an overdose should be required to seek outpatient treatment. It recommends against that idea, with the report stating that personal commitment to treatment is essential to success.
“Although mandated treatment can be successful, it would likely burden current treatment resources, thereby decreasing availability of treatment resources to those with motivation for recovery,” according to the report.
Avard said the commission’s work in the past year convinced him that Narcan is a valuable tool in the state’s battle against opioid addiction, despite what he called a “problem with public perceptions and narratives that hijack the conversation.”
The public is becoming frustrated with reports of the same individuals being revived over and over again. In Middleton, Ohio, a city councilman has called for a “three strikes” law that would prohibit a fourth administration of Narcan to the same individual within a certain time period.
“You hear the comments, ‘Just let them die,’” said Avard. “Well what if it’s your kid; what if it’s your parents and that’s happening. We can’t let that happen.”
“If we say we want to make more (Narcan) available, we are not trying to enable,” he said.
Christopher Stawasz, regional director for American Medical Response ambulance service, reported on the growing number of overdoses his crews have responded to, including 140 in September between Manchester and Nashua.
“My recommendation would be we continue to make (Narcan) as widely available as possible, regardless of the cost,” he said.