Preventing drug overdoses in Indiana

Posted by: Zach Weismiller  | Friday, March 27, 2015

One of the top issues we pledged to address this session is public safety. Overall, our goal is to make every community in Indiana a better place live, work and raise a family. Unfortunately, a growing public safety concern, not just for Indiana but the nation as well, is opioid overdose.

While every drug has the potential to be misused and abused, the number of individuals abusing opioids is growing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the national rates for drug overdoses have never been higher—having more than tripled since 1990.  

Indiana is not immune to drug overdose deaths. According to a 2012 Indiana report, the number of deaths associated with opioid overdoses has increased five-fold and is significantly higher than rates of overdose deaths from heroin, cocaine and other narcotics. The report also found that opioids played a role in nearly 21 percent of Hoosier overdose deaths.

Opioids can slow or stop a person's breathing, which can potentially result in an individual’s death. One way to combat overdoses is by administering overdose prevention drugs, such as Naloxone, also known as Narcan. In the event of an overdose, Naloxone helps a person wake up and keeps them breathing normally. These types of prescription drugs are safe, effective, non-addictive and have been used by emergency medical professionals for many years.  

However, while these drugs could reduce deaths caused by overdose, they currently can only be prescribed to emergency responders and technicians. Family members, concerned friends and other loved ones are not legally able to obtain them in our state. This is a serious issue, as those individuals are often the first to respond and may intervene if an individual is experiencing an opioid-related overdose. This leaves many Hoosier families feeling helpless in an already extremely difficult situation.

This session, I was proud to sponsor legislation, along with local lawmaker Rep. Jud McMillin, that would further combat the growing number of opioid and drug-related overdose deaths in Indiana. Senate Bill (SB) 406 would give health care professionals the ability to prescribe Narcan or other overdose intervention drugs to family members or friends under certain conditions. They could be prescribed to someone who is in a position to assist an individual at risk of an overdose and would be instructed to call emergency services immediately before or after administering the preventative drug. The bill would also require ambulances and emergency medical services vehicles to be equipped with an overdose intervention drug at all times.

SB 406 unanimously passed the Senate and was recently heard in the Public Health Committee in the House. During the meeting, I was able to listen to testimony from individuals, many of them parents, who lost a loved one to an overdose. I applaud them for their courage in sharing such emotional stories with the committee and was pleased to see such overwhelming support for this bill.

As a mother who has witnessed the lifesaving effects of Narcan firsthand, I am pleased to see this legislation continue to work its way through the legislative process. While there is still a long road ahead for battling drug abuse and overdose in our state, I believe SB 406 is a step in the right direction and could potentially save the lives of Hoosiers.

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Rep. Ziemke (R-Batesville) represents portions of Rush, Fayette, Franklin, Ripley and Decatur counties.