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Legislative Memo: In Support of an ACT to Amend the Public Health Law, in Relation to Use of Opioid Antagonists

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) strongly encourages the State Assembly to pass The Overdose Prevention Bill, A.8637B.

This legislation will help put an end to the devastating and rapidly growing epidemic of fatal overdoses caused by opioid drugs, such as heroin and the prescription painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone. By providing greater access to naloxone (or Narcan), countless fatal overdoses in our state will be prevented.

The state Senate unanimously passed the bill (S.6477B), and now it is time for the Assembly to do the same.

The nation is suffering from an opioid overdose epidemic. 1  In New York State, drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death, with a majority of these deaths caused by heroin or prescription painkillers.2

The epidemic in New York has worsened due to an increase in prescription painkiller overdoses, which now exceed the death rate from illicit drugs.3  Between 2000 and 2012, deaths caused by prescription painkiller overdoses increased 233% and heroin overdoses increased 84%.4

The threat of opioid overdose affects all New Yorkers, regardless of race, ethnicity or income bracket.5  The most visible face of the epidemic may involve a celebrity whose overdose becomes a media soap opera of excess and addiction, but the rising incidence of prescription painkiller overdoses largely involves residents of stable, middle-class communities—including neighborhoods in Staten Island and the Bronx.

The populations of these communities include high numbers of police officers, firefighters, and construction workers. Many of these workers are prescribed painkillers for back pain or other chronic pain syndromes, but then develop deadly addictions.6  This epidemic does not discriminate.

There is, however, a simple-to-administer drug known as naloxone (or Narcan), that can reverse the effects of such overdoses, doing so without side effects or other harm. Naloxone has been used in overdose prevention for decades across the country.7  In addition, starting this year, the NYPD will be using the drug to prevent fatal drug overdoses on Staten Island.8

An overdose can become fatal in just one hour, which means that those nearest the victim—usually family, friends, or other drug users—are in the best position to administer naloxone or notify first responders.9  If those in proximity to the overdosing drug user are able to obtain naloxone, many lives can be saved.10

By adopting A.8637B, the Assembly would do two crucial things to save lives.

(1) Allow the following persons and organizations to obtain, administer, and distribute naloxone: a person at risk of experiencing an opioid-related overdose; a family member, friend or other person in a position to assist an individual at risk of an overdose; a registered opioid overdose prevention program; and

(2) Release all persons, organizations, and medical practitioners from criminal, civil, or administrative liability for receiving, prescribing, dispensing, or administering naloxone, so long as they are acting reasonably and in good faith compliance with the law.

A.8637B would expand access to this drug and facilitate life-saving medical interventions. Under the current law, naloxone may be obtained only from a licensed medical practitioner (medical doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner) at one of the 106 registered Opioid Overdose Prevention Centers state-wide.11

While these centers have been effective, not many of them can afford the cost of hiring full-time medical professionals. This creates an absurd result. Prevention centers are stocked with naloxone, but are only able to afford the cost of dispensing the drug a few hours a month.12

By eliminating the need for a medical practitioner to distribute naloxone, this easy-to-use overdose antidote will be available more widely, and at a lower cost, to overdose prevention programs.

In addition, the bill would allow medical professionals, organizations, and family members to intervene when an overdose occurs without fear of facing criminal, civil, or administrative liability for administering the drug to someone who has overdosed. Indeed, no person acting in good faith compliance with the law should have to face legal liability for distributing naloxone: the drug has no known adverse side effects or potential for abuse, and has been utilized by first responders and emergency medical professionals for decades.13

To encourage the use of naloxone, all persons involved—from the medical practitioner, to the local clinic operating a licensed opioid overdose prevention program, to the mother administering the drug to her son—must be assured that they are within the law when taking action to prevent an overdose fatality.

Releasing these persons from the threat of liability would establish legal recognition of the fact that naloxone is a safe, easy-to-use, and effective life-saving intervention—a medical fact that is already widely recognized.

Moreover, empowering a non-patient to furnish the drug to another (e.g., their spouse), is not new to New York State. In 2009, the New York Public Health Law was amended to include “Expedited Partner Therapy” (or “EPT”) in order to stem the aggressive spread of the STD Chlamydia Trachomatis.14  EPT allows health care professionals to provide or prescribe antibiotics for both the patient and the patient’s sexual partner.15

According to the New York State Department of Health, “randomized controlled trials” showed EPT to decrease re-infection rates among “index patients,” and to increase the number of sexual partners seeking treatment.16

Non-patient prescriptions for naloxone would allow medical professionals to dispense naloxone to spouses, friends, and other loved ones of opioid users, greatly expanding access to the drug in a crisis—and thereby saving lives.

Support for this bill is virtually universal. The New York State Department of Health, as well as a coalition of twenty-three health organizations and religious groups all support the bill.17

Additionally, several other states—including California, Kentucky, Illinois, North Carolina, and Vermont—have enacted similar statutes with great success.18

By passing The Overdose Prevention Bill, A.8637B, the New York State legislature will ensure the widespread distribution of a safe antidote to opioid overdoses and save the lives of countless New Yorkers.

For all these reasons the NYCLU urges swift passage of A.8637B, the Overdose Prevention Bill.

1 See National Institute on Drug Abuse, New Study Tracks Epidemic of Prescription Opioid Overdose Deaths in New York City, available at… (last modified Apr. 2013).

2 See New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Prescription Painkiller and Heroin Overdose Deaths Continue to Rise in New York City (2014), available at

3 See Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vital Signs: Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers (2011), available at

4 See New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, supra note 2.

5 See The Washington Post, Obituaries: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Oscar-winning actor, found dead in NY apartment (Feb. 2, 2014), available at… U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment Services: Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) 2000 – 2010 (Jun. 2012) , available at, at 15.

6 See National Public Radio, Painkiller Overdose Deaths Strike New York City’s Middle Class (Oct. 18, 2013), available at….

7 See New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, supra note 2.

8 See New York Times, In Effort to Fight Overdoses, Staten Island Officers Will Soon Carry Heroin Antidote (April 17, 2014), available at….

9 See New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, supra note 2.

10 Id.

11 See Harm Reduction Coalition, New York SKOOP, available at (regarding rules for distributing naloxone at Opioid Overdose Prevention Centers); New York State Department of Health, Directory of Registered Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs, available at… (last modified Mar. 2014) (listing all Opioid Overdose Prevention Centers registered in New York State).

12 See Harm Reduction Coalition, New York SKOOP, available at

13 See New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, supra note 2.

14 See N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 2312 (McKinney); New York State Department of Health, Notice of Adoption: Expedited Partner Therapy to Treat Chlamydia Trachomatis (Oct. 13, 2010), available at

15 See New York State Department of Health, Notice of Adoption: Expedited Partner Therapy to Treat Chlamydia Trachomatis (Oct. 13, 2010), available at

16 Id.

17 See VOCAL-NY, Support for S6477 (Hannon) / A8637 (Dinowitz) To Strengthen Drug Overdose Prevention (Feb. 6, 2014) (individual letters of support on file with VOCAL-NY).

18 See New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, supra note 2.

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