State Reps. Tom O'Dea (R-New Canaan) and Gerald Fox III (D-Stamford) met Wednesday with representatives from the Connecticut Prevention Network to discuss Raised House Bill No. 5487, which would provide immunity to anyone who administers an "opioid antagonist" drug to a person experiencing an overdose.
The meeting was held in the hours before a public hearing was held on the bill, where legislators, members of the public and experts advocated for the approval of the law, according to a release issued by O'Dea.
When administered quickly and correctly, the opioid antagonist drug naloxone rapidly restores a victim's breathing and reverses the effects of an overdose of heroin or other opioids, such as prescription painkillers.
Under current statute, only licensed health care professionals can administer the overdose countermeasure without fear of facing civil or criminal prosecution. According to the release, O'Dea, who introduced the measure through the state House's Judiciary Committee, believes that the legislation is necessary to protect any and all first-responders who administer naloxone from lawsuits or prosecution.
The representatives from the Connecticut Prevention Network was at the Capitol Wednesday to talk with O'Dea and Fox and to testify before the Judiciary Committee in favor of the bill, which they said will be a lifesaver. According the state's Chief Medical Examiner, deaths from heroin abuse alone rose by nearly 50 percent to 257 in 2013, from 174 such deaths in 2012.
"A lot of these cases of heroin abuse and deaths start with abuse of painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin -- when people run out of ways to get the prescription meds, too often they turn to heroin," O'Dea said. "The rising number of deaths from these drugs in Connecticut is extremely alarming, and allowing non-physicians to carry and administer naloxone is an easy way to avoid unnecessary tragedies like the ones we've been seeing all too often."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently called the rise in heroin overdoses an "urgent public health crisis," and advocated the exact course of action O'Dea's bill would implement. Seventeen states and Washington, D.C., have already increased access to naloxone by amending their states' laws.
"We had a lot of people come in today to testify in favor of the measure, and I am confident that the legislature will pass the bill easily, and without significant opposition," Fox said in the release. "Saving lives by allowing non-medical personnel to carry and administer a drug that has been around for decades is a no-brainer, and hopefully a step toward solving this epidemic we are experiencing."
O'Dea and Fox expect the bill to be passed in the coming weeks with wide bipartisan support.
State Rep. O'Dea represents the 125th district, which covers most of New Canaan and part of Wilton. He currently serves on the legislature's Judiciary, Environment and Transportation committees.
State Rep. Gerald Fox III represents the 146th district in Stamford. He is the House Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and also serves on the legislature's Transportation and Executive Nominations committees.