The Senate Judiciary Committee debated a bill this week that’s aimed at limiting potential legal liability for those who administer a drug used to reverse the effects of overdoses on morphine and heroine.
Naloxone hydrochloride has been approved by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration as an emergency antidote to potentially fatal opioid overdoses. Trademarked as Narcan, Nalone, and Narcanti, it is increasingly being recognized for its life-saving attributes.
When opioids are taken, they bind with receptors. Naloxone works to block those receptors and not allow the drugs to do damage. The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, in explaining why he thinks the legislation is necessary, said that in 2012 “there were over 1,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in Tennessee.” Naloxone has proven an effective way to combat the problem, he said.
According to the legislative summary for Senate Bill 1631, “the practitioner and the person administering (naloxone) will be immune from civil liability…unless there is a showing of gross negligence or willful misconduct. Also, the practitioner will be immune from disciplinary or adverse administrative actions.”
While naloxone is considered to have negligible side effects, in certain circumstances a person can be injured if it is injected, for example, in the thigh with an automatic needle, such as an Epipen, and an artery is hit, said committee member Mark Green, a Republican from Clarksville and a practicing physician. The likelihood of that happening is small, according to Green, but the chance is present nonetheless, especially if the patient has thin blood.
Green said many treated for emergency drug issues are administered naloxone as a precautionary measure. “When a patient comes in altered into the emergency department, everybody gets Narcan just because it could be an opioid.” he said. Green added that given that naloxone has great potential benefits and low risks, care providers should be given legal protections to administer it without fear of liability.
David Reagan, chief medical officer for the Tennessee Department of Health, agreed with Green that there is only a small chance of a problem, explaining the injection is given intramuscularly, which is normally a very safe procedure. “A needle can go in and lacerate a blood vessel, and again, that’s usually not an issue.” He said the drug is given very commonly and it’s safe.
The bill passed out of the committee on a 7-0 vote. Sixteen states already have similar legislation.
If the bill becomes law, an online overdose prevention education program will be created. The program would provide information and instruction on how to properly administer the drug and contain information related to overdose prevention.