Narcan: A HOPE to Save Lives
At the tail end of last year, I heard a story about a young man who had passed away of an opioid overdose. This story hit many nerves for me, in particular, because it involved a first responder who arrived on the scene while the young man was still alive, but was unable to take action to save his life because he was not carrying an opioid antagonist.
Opioid antagonists work by blocking receptors in the brain interacting with opioids causing the overdose and preventing the body from responding to them. The most common and easily accessible antagonist at this time is naloxone, usually referred to by its brand name, Narcan. We know that Narcan works and we credit it with saving hundreds of Massachusetts lives a year.
In fact, Massachusetts issued a Narcan standing order for all pharmacies across the state through last year's CARE Act, allowing it to be readily available to anyone who has a need for it; we as a state created the Department of Public Health's Overdoes Education and Naloxone Distribution Program (OEND) to better understand how to make the medicine more easily accessible; and we created the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Trust Fund (BPTF) through legislation in 2015 to help make the substance more affordable for communities to provide to their first responders.
For these reasons and more, I was floored to learn that first responders in Massachusetts are not required to carry Narcan on their persons or in their vehicles while they are on duty. Knowing full well that we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic that is gripping the entire nation, knowing that any call coming in through an emergency line could be reporting an overdose situation, and realizing that the lack of an opioid antagonist by the responder who was the first professional to arrive on the scene is why that young man is not here with us today all prompted me to take legislative action on this dire issue. After months of research and discussion with public safety officers, legislators, healthcare advocates and providers, my office introduced H.1747, An Act helping overdosing persons in emergencies, otherwise known as the HOPE Act.
The idea behind the HOPE Act is simple: to gain consistency across the board on the administration of Narcan. The Massachusetts State Police and many other urban departments already carry Narcan, including Boston, which has been carrying the antagonist since 2014.
This bill aims to go furthest in sparsely populated, rural areas that are reliant on volunteer first responders where it is uncertain which first responder will actually arrive on the scene first. In places like the Berkshires and other towns in Western Massachusetts, police officers have not only need to use Narcan on civilians, but there has also been instances reported in which officers on duty have has to administer Narcan on themselves. In March 2019, a traffic stop in Pembroke lead to a fentanyl exposure scare for a Massachusetts state trooper and in June 2018 Southwick officers had to self-administer Narcan after being exposed while waiting for an ambulance to arrive on the scene to transport an overdosing civilian.
The HOPE Act simply directs the Department of Public Health to oversee and approve a training program for first responders -- especially local police officers and fire fighters -- to learn how to administer an approved form of Narcan. The bill incorporates that training into the first aid and cardiopulmonary training all first responders are already legally required to go through as part of their state training, and further directs government agencies to ensure that their first responders are equipped with said opioid antagonist either on their person, in their vehicle or both while they are on duty responding to emergency calls.
State Rep. Smitty Pignatelli represents the 4th Berkshire District.
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