In the face of rising overdose numbers in the United States, Surgeon General Jerome Adams issued an advisory Thursday urging more Americans to carry naloxone, the opioid overdose-reversing medicine. Officials are hoping to make a dent in the 53,000 deaths involving opioids that occurred in 2016 alone. "No mother should ever have to bury her child and especially not when they have a lifesaving medication that virtually anyone can access," Adams said.
But there are a lot of factors that decide whether bystanders are able to administer naloxone to overdoses, including the medicine's availability and people's training in its use.
To that end, state laws can help. Last year, Pacific Standard assessed statewide naloxone access policies. In the light of Adams' advisory, we've updated our map. You can find it below. States that are shaded darker yellow in the map have laws fitting more of the six categories that we analyzed. All of our data comes from the Prescription Drug Abuse Policy System, which is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and it's up to date as of July of 2017.
In creating the map, we examined six types of laws:
- General naloxone access laws. This includes any law that addresses naloxone access, as determined by researchers at the Prescription Drug Abuse Policy System.
- Laws protecting health-care professionals who prescribe or distribute naloxone to laypeople. Studies show that many doctors think they'll be open to criminal liability if they prescribe naloxone, even though that's not true. Laws in this category assure them they won't. Laws like this may also allow prescribers to write naloxone prescriptions for drug users' family members and friends, which isn't legal for most medicines.
- Laws allowing standing orders for naloxone. These laws allow doctors to write a prescription in such a way that many other health-care workers, such as the staff of a community health center, can get and give out naloxone as needed, without ever meeting the doctor. Some states have a standing order written by their surgeon general, which applies to the whole state.
- General Good Samaritan laws that protect people who call for help for an overdose victim. Because many people overdose while using drugs with friends, this encompasses anything that encourages drug users to call for emergency services for each other, including the two law types below.
- Laws that protect people who call for help from punishment for drug possession specifically. Laws that fit in this category vary a lot, but can offer some protection from arrest, charges, or prosecution for possession for Good Samaritans.
- A law that considers calling for help a mitigating factor in prosecution for drug crimes.
These are not the only possible naloxone-access policies that states can enact, but we sought to cover a wide variety of law types that might be representative of the diversity of a state's legal efforts to get naloxone to overdose victims in time. One important aspect of access that our analysis doesn't cover: whether naloxone is available and affordable in different parts of the country. The National Institute on Drug Abuse's website contains links to help people find the medicine at low cost in their area.