Save lives by making opioid overdose reversal medications readily available
It’s been a challenging two years for Illinoisans. Successive COVID-19 waves — Alpha, Delta, Omicron — have coincided with and exacerbated the ongoing opioid epidemic that continues to devastate communities all across our great state.
Fortunately, the Illinois General Assembly has demonstrated leadership in the fight to address the crisis and recently passed legislation that would help protect more individuals from the harms of an accidental overdose.
Now, it’s up to Gov. J. B. Pritzker to sign that measure into law and expand access to potentially lifesaving overdose reversal medications like naloxone.
As a pharmacist who has worked across the state for more than two decades, I’ve seen the harsh impact of the opioid crisis first-hand. I’ve also personally seen how an opioid overdose reversal medication such as naloxone can give someone a second chance in a life-threatening emergency.
Naloxone is an FDA-approved medication used to reverse the effects of an overdose and revive someone in a life-threatening situation. Organizations like Illinois ADVANCE conduct trainings on naloxone with prescribers and explain how opioid overdose reversal medications help protect patients. We equate having naloxone on hand in an emergency overdose situation to being ready with a fire extinguisher at the scene of a fire. It truly scares me to think about what could have happened if I not had naloxone with me on the two occasions when I administered it to an individual to revive them.
Despite what we know about the life-saving potential of these medications, there remain gaps in reaching at-risk individuals. Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 3,647 people died from drug overdoses in Illinois in the 12-month period ending November 2021 — and many of the fatal overdoses in our state could have easily been prevented if naloxone were more readily available and accessible.
This March, the Illinois General Assembly passed Senate Bill 2535 to require pharmacists who dispense opioid prescriptions to patients to simultaneously offer a prescription for naloxone in certain situations. The policy is commonly known as co-prescribing, and data from other states that have passed such measures tells us it works to expand access for at-risk patients.
The bill would also require practitioners who prescribe an opioid to help patients understand the addictive nature of opioids, emphasize that opioid overdose reversal medications are available by prescription or at the pharmacy counter and require hospitals to provide any patients who are discharged for overdose on a controlled substance with an opioid overdose reversal medication.
In Senate Bill 2535, Pritzker has an opportunity to expand access to potentially lifesaving medications and help educate more individuals about their risk for an accidental overdose.
Findings from the New Mexico Department of Health showed that prescription opioid overdose deaths decreased in that state in 2019 when over 94,000 naloxone doses were dispensed or distributed. This increase in naloxone distribution correlated with the passage of legislation that required health care providers to co-prescribe naloxone when a patient is prescribed more than a five-day supply of opioids.
Senate Bill 2535 represents an immediate and significant step our state can take right now to protect Illinois patients and communities and further combat the deadly effects of the opioid crisis. Co-prescribing is just one component of a larger strategy that is needed to address the opioid crisis in Illinois and ensure we protect the lives of people across Illinois.
I urge Gov. Pritzker to sign Senate Bill 2535 without delay and help more at-risk patients be prepared in an emergency overdose situation.
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Mary Lynn Moody is a pharmacist and associate dean for professional and governmental affairs at Illinois ADVANCE.