BOISE — Idaho is on track to have the broadest naloxone-access law in the nation, Gov. Brad Little declared Thursday, as he signed HB 12 into law. The bill makes the opioid-overdose-reversing drug available from any licensed or registered health care professional, to be given to anyone with “a valid reason” to possess it.

That could mean first responders, family members, drug users themselves, or anyone who is likely to be able to help someone suffering from an opioid overdose by administering the drug.

“No doctor visit is required, and it can be accessed by anyone in a position to help someone at risk,” Little said.

The bill takes effect July 1; it passed both the House and Senate unanimously.

House Health & Welfare Committee Chairman Fred Wood, the bill’s lead sponsor and a physician himself, said it will mean “significant increase in distribution to non-health care providers, just laypeople in the public.” Administering the drug to someone suffering from an overdose, he said, can “prevent them from dying.”

The drug is available as a nasal spray or injection. Under federal law, it is available only by prescription. It has no effect in people who are not taking opioids; it works by reversing the respiratory depression, or slow and ineffective breathing, that occurs during opioid overdose.

Rep. Jake Ellis, D-Boise, a firefighter, has personally seen more than 50 lives saved by administration of the drug. “It’s remarkable,” he said.

HB 12 also protects anyone who prescribes, dispenses or administers naloxone from civil liability or criminal prosecution.

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Little said the bill is just one piece of a bigger plan, about which he plans to issue an executive order in the coming weeks, to combat what he called an “epidemic” of overdose deaths from substance abuse in Idaho. In 2017, Idaho had 116 overdose deaths, up from just 44 a decade earlier.

Little noted that many who become addicted to prescription opioids switch to heroin because it’s cheaper, “and of course fentanyl (a highly potent synthetic opioid) is the one that really, really scares us, because of the impact there.”

Wood told Little, “I’ll work as hard as you do on this crisis, and together, we’ll solve it.”

The bill’s Senate sponsor was Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow; he said he was “honored” to have it be the first bill he carried in the Idaho Senate.

Melinda Smyser, administrator of the state Office of Drug Policy, said in Idaho, “One person every 36 hours dies of a drug overdose — that’s pretty serious. And it’s not just in the Treasure Valley area, it’s in the entire state,” including rural Idaho.

Little said additional steps that will be included in his executive order include assessing how new resources made available by Medicaid expansion can help address the problem; and the need for more drug treatment in Idaho communities outside the criminal justice system.

“I was just starting in the Legislature when the judiciary started the drug courts,” Little said. “The problem is you have to violate state law — you have to get into the criminal justice system. We need to have more non-offender programs,” so there are places “we can send some of these people,” along with more professionals who can treat them.

“Opioids are just part of the whole substance abuse problem and what we do,” the governor said.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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