BY BTL STAFF
TRAVERSE CITY – Newly signed legislation will provide Michigan residents more access to medication that reverses overdoses from heroin and other opioids, according to a Traverse City Record Eagle report.
Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley on Wednesday signed a bill allowing pharmacists to give customers naloxone, an overdose reversal medicine, without prescriptions from doctors.
The law, known as Public Act 383, came as the state’s public health officials grapple with increasing overdose rates. Deaths from overdoses rose in Michigan by 14 percent in 2014, according to state data. The state saw 1,745 drug poisoning deaths in 2014 compared to 455 in 1999.
More naloxone in a community means there is a higher chance the medicine will be available during an opioid overdose, said Maya Doe-Simkins, co-director of Harm Reduction Michigan, a community health nonprofit.
But the act is too limited for Doe-Simkins – she would prefer state legislators allow trained volunteers and public health workers to distribute naloxone kits.
“The language wouldn’t need to be changed that much,” she said. “It’s good. If it could just be expanded beyond pharmacists it would be helpful.”
Harm Reduction Michigan volunteers work with a physician to distribute free naloxone prescriptions and kits at monthly training sessions at the Traverse Area District Library’s Thirlby Room.
Rachel Snyder of Traverse City attended one of those trainings. The slight chance she could save a life is enough for her to carry a naloxone kit just like she carries an EpiPen.
Snyder is on the Transgender Michigan board of directors and runs the organization’s local chapter. She said suicide rates are high among transgender and LGBT people – Centers for Disease Control data show LGBT youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers.
Naloxone could help friends and family of suicidal people stop their attempts.
“I hope to save somebody,” Snyder said before tucking a naloxone kit in her purse.
Naloxone is administered in three ways: through a nasal spray, a simple needle and vial or through an all-in-one injection kit.
Most insurances cover a form of naloxone. Prices without insurance range from $15 to more than $4,000 per two-dose kit, Doe-Simkins said.
But she said she worried even visiting a pharmacist would be a barrier to the people who most need naloxone – drug users.
“This kind of approach would require that a person who uses drugs, who may or may not have much money, presents in a public place like a pharmacy to get a product that is expensive if they don’t have insurance or goes on their record if they do have insurance,” Doe-Simkins said. “To me this is an approach designed to support friends and family and loved ones of people who use drugs.”
Increased naloxone access isn’t without drawbacks, said Traverse City police Capt. Jim Bussell. He said there were instances in Grand Traverse County where people use enough drugs to overdose because they know naloxone is there to revive them.
But the medicine saves lives – law enforcement officers and paramedics routinely carry it in case they encounter someone overdosing from opioids.
“The argument for it makes sense to me, and the argument against it makes sense to me,” Bussell said.
Doe-Simkins contended people’s drug use depends more on mental health, money and feelings than naloxone availability.
Snyder doesn’t question the ethics behind increasing naloxone access. It’s a simple solution.
“If by chance I can save someone, did I do the right thing?” she asked with a rhetorical shrug. “That’s a question I’ll let your readers answer.”