March 8, 2013
In North Carolina, the state Senate passed a comprehensive overdose prevention bill, Senate Bill (SB) 20. The bill would allow practitioners to prescribe Naloxone, also known as Narcan, to individuals or their families and friends who are "at risk of experiencing an opiate-related overdose." Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that can reverse the effects of overdose on opiates such as heroin. It also allows people to administer Naloxone under some circumstances, and provides limited protection from prosecution for people seeking medical assistance. It also creates protections for people trying to help others avoid overdose, providing it with part of its short title as a "Good Samaritan Law." The bill, which enjoys strong Republican support, was passed 50-0 and will move on to the North Carolina House for further consideration.
The issue of overdose prevention is strongly related to HIV/AIDS and has recently become more prominent for HIV/AIDS advocates as it has become clear that many people living with HIV, particularly injection drug users, are strongly impacted by the potential for overdose on opiates. A 2010 paper, "Why Overdose Matters for People With HIV," from the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network and Open Society Foundations, details several issues that crossover between drug use and HIV/AIDS, including that overdose is a leading cause of death among HIV-positive drug users and that overdose prevention services can also help injection drug users to prevent HIV or to attain additional HIV-related health services. The paper also notes that many of the policies that increase the risk of HIV are also connected to overdose issues. For these and other reasons, helping to reduce the risk of overdose may help lower the risk of HIV.
The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, an AIDS United grantee, has played a key effort in building support for the bill. The strong vote of support from the North Carolina Senate shows that the hard work of advocacy and contacting legislators can pay off when a law has the potential to help people living with HIV.
The text of the law can be found here.