Naloxone, the life-saving opiate overdose reversal drug, is now available in Montana to eligible recipients.
In a press conference Thursday at the Helena Fire Department, Gov. Steve Bullock and a group of officials from the Montana Medical Association, the Montana Department of Justice, the Board of Pharmacy and the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services announced that naloxone will be making its way to first responders and other people on the front lines of the opioid crisis in Montana.
As House Bill 333, the “Help Save Lives from Overdose Act” comes into effect, new training and a broader access to the drug will be brought statewide. The drug was previously only available by prescription to a patient rather than in the hands of first responders.
Bullock said that the bill “shines a spotlight on a complex issue,” as raising awareness and recognizing new ways to fight the American opioid epidemic become more important.
While alcohol abuse is Montana’s primary substance issue, and meth the second-most prevelant, opioids have caused over 700 deaths in Montana from 2000-2015, according to the Montana Medical Association.
William Gallea is a doctor at St. Peter’s in Helena and helps in Lewistown as well. In his time as a doctor he has seen many cases of opioid and other drug overdoses and sees naloxone as a useful tool in the fight to save lives, but not an all-encompassing solution for dealing with opioid addiction.
“When this is given, the next step has to be to take them to the ER,” Gallea cautioned. Naloxone only works for a half hour to an hour, so getting a person who has taken it to the ER in a timely fashion is paramount so more medical attention can be provided.
To facilitate people taking someone who overdosed to the hospital, HB333 grants immunity from prosecution from some criminal offenses if people seek medical treatment.
Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said that in his experience as a paramedic, naloxone — also known in its nasal spray form as Narcan — is a very effective narcotic drug.
Referring to HB333, Dutton said “this means it's available to first responders who have a standing procedure to use it, putting it in the hands of people who are there.”
“We hope to put it in every patrol car,” Dutton continued. “This is a milestone in the effectiveness of preserving lives.”
Sheila Hogan, the Director of Montana’s Department of Public Health & Human Services, said that providing naloxone to first responders and other groups is just part of the puzzle.
“Naloxone gives a second chance,” Hogan said.
“It’s just a part of it; there are lots of pieces to this puzzle.”