Heroin antidote bill advances

First responders would be able to provide a life-saving drug to those overdosing on heroin under a bill that cleared a House panel Wednesday.

The legislation takes a different tack in the efforts legislators have made to reduce heroin-related deaths.

Most of the bills lengthen sentences for heroin-related crimes, in an effort to dissuade drug dealers from operating in Louisiana.

The Louisiana House voted 96-0 Wednesday evening in favor of legislation that would require jail time for heroin possession.

Before sending House Bill 332 to the Senate for debate, legislators made a change to it. The bill now calls for participation in a court-approved substance abuse treatment program as well as jail time. HB332 would double the minimum five-year prison sentence for distribution and require time in prison for possession. Users would have to serve at least two years behind bars.

House Bill 754, on the other hand, would give law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel the authority to administer a drug that reverses the effects of heroin during an overdose. The state House Health and Welfare committee advanced the legislation without objection. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

Opiates generally slow down a body’s functions until those functions stop working properly, which leads to death. Law enforcement and emergency personnel in other states have found that the drug, naloxone — also known by the brand name Narcan — can save a life when given nasally or by injection shortly after the overdose.

“This will certainly save lives,” said East Baton Rouge Coroner Beau Clark, who said he’s seen too many heroin-related deaths in the parish: 35 last year; this year, seven confirmed deaths and two potential overdose deaths.

Quick action by first responders could reduce those numbers, Clark told the committee.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have implemented a law or developed a pilot program to allow administration of the heroin antidote by professionals or others. The American Medical Association has endorsed the practice.

The opiate antidote can be rapidly reversing the potentially deadly effect of opiod drugs including heroin and prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin or Vicodin.

House Bill 754 sponsored by state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, would allow first responders to receive prescriptions for Narcan, maintain it in their possession, and administer to anyone believed to be undergoing an opioid-related drug overdose. Law enforcement agencies and fire departments would enter into written agreements to affiliate with an ambulance service provider or physician to obtain the Narcan supply as well as the necessary training on how to safely and properly administer the drug.

The first responder would be immune from civil liability, criminal prosecution or disciplinary “or other adverse action” as a result of administering the drug unless negligence is involved.

State Rep. Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte, a pharmacist, said the drug saves lives, but he wants to insure that the proper training is giving those who will be administering it.

“All medicine has some good points, bad points,” said LeBas. “Do you have anything in place to train the people?”

State fire marshal Butch Browning, who supported the measure, said there are no current protocols in place. But he said the procedures would be set by physicians.

“I’d like to see what the training is,” said LeBas.

State Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, asked whether the overdose fighting drug could be used recreationally.

“It ruins the effect of the opiate,” said Clark.

“What happens if he is not on anything” and the drug is administered, asked state Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Mansfield.

“There is no effect if there’s no opiate in your system,” Clark said.

Committee chairman state Rep. Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs, said lawmakers want to make sure that the people who administer the drug are well trained.

LeBas said the drug is not one that regular pharmacies keep in supply. “It is an emergency room drug,” said LeBas. “It’s very good at saving lives. I want to make sure they get the proper training and want to do this.”

The bill now heads to the House floor for debate.

Michelle Millhollon of the Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.