We did it! We are three steps closer to saving lives from preventable overdose and expanding access to evidence-based treatments.
Over the last year and a half we’ve come together to host community events, met with elected officials and worked to win expanded access to the lifesaving overdose reversal drug Naloxone and Medication Assisted Treatment.
All of that organizing and power building paid off – we passed three bills into law that will do just what we set out to do – reduce preventable overdose deaths and increase access to treatments that actually work. While we are celebrating, we know we still have a long way to go, including making sure these new laws are implemented well and benefit the most people possible.
Read on for more information about what these new laws will do for our families and communities.
Easy Access to Naloxone
Thanks to passing S. 3491/A. 5457 – people who use drugs and their loved ones can look forward to increased easy access to the overdose antidote called Naloxone. Naloxone comes in many forms, but is most commonly known as Narcan. The new law states that “ANY PERSON may obtain, administer, and distribute opioid antidotes to others,” where they in good faith reasonably believe a person may overdose or actually is overdosing. This legislation also makes sure those administering or distributing the antidote will suffer from no civil or criminal penalties. That means you can’t be sued or arrested for having the antidote, sharing it with someone else, or if the circumstances require, administering it to someone who is overdosing.
Assuming the funds are available, free naloxone may be much more widely available in schools and colleges, libraries, and at transportation centers.
Buying naloxone from a pharmacy has also been made easier. Pharmacies are some of the most prevalent places to obtain naloxone. Previously, the pharmacies were required to request what’s known as a standing order from the NJ’s Department of Health, so that they could dispense the antidotes without requiring prescriptions. Now pharmacies will be able to distribute lifesaving naloxone without making any request. The Department of Health is required to issue a blanket standing order to all pharmacies in NJ. No prescriptions needed!
There are some other exciting aspects about these bills. When an individual is treated for an overdose, they are to receive not only information about possible treatment resources for substance use disorders, but information about where to access harm reduction services, including sterile syringe access programs, and an offer for Naloxone to keep with you in case you witness or experience another overdose. You and your loved ones should be offered naloxone regardless of if you consent to go to the Emergency Room.
Unfortunately, there is still a cost to getting naloxone from the ER or from a first responder, but if you have health insurance (including Medicaid) you should only have to pay a small copay or nothing at all.
Another piece of legislation recently passed makes it easier to obtain an opioid antidote; S.3800/A.5703 eliminates prior authorizations for opioid antidotes. What is “prior authorization?” It is a restriction imposed by a health insurance company (not your doctor), to determine whether a drug is medically necessary and appropriate for an individual’s care and whether the insurance company will pay for it.
These bills, by eliminating a request for a prior authorization for an opioid antidote, means that the health insurance companies must cover it. This includes Medicare, Medicaid and NJ Family Care as well as the State Health Benefits Plan and the State Educators Health Benefits Plan. So now, you can walk into any pharmacy that has naloxone and if you have insurance, you should be able to walk out with naloxone after making your copay.
Increased Access to Buprenorphine – A Medication Assisted Treatment
Thanks to S. 3803/A. 5495 expands access to lifesaving Buprenorphine (commonly known as Suboxone) a form of Medication Assisted Treatment. Although there are some restrictions, paramedics in NJ may now administer buprenorphine, on the scene of an overdose reversal. These are mobile intensive care units, administering federally approved programs, in the field, who are appropriately trained and under the supervision of a licensed physician.
What this means is that if you or a loved one overdose and paramedics come and revive you, it is likely they can then provide you with a prescription of Buprenorphine and administer the first dose on the scene of an overdose reversal. If they don’t offer it, don’t be afraid to ask if that’s an option.