Committee votes to let pharmacists dispense opioid relapse fighting medication

      A drug that would help former and recovering addicts fight off relapses would be more available under a bill being considered in the House.

Representative Jonathan Patterson (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      House Bill 2603 would allow pharmacists to sell and distribute naltrexone hydrochloride, a drug that helps stem the desire to use opioids or related substances.

      Bill sponsor Jonathon Patterson (R-Lee’s Summit) told the House Committee on Health and Mental Health Policy, “I think it would help and maybe even stop a few of the deaths that we see here in this state every year.”

      “If you had a person that was getting off opioids and they had this craving for the drug they could go to a pharmacy, the pharmacist could give them that drug and they could take it so that they don’t go and find heroin or any other, fentanyl; drugs that they use that they could overdose on.”

      Patterson explained that his legislation would expand upon a bill passed out of the legislature and signed into law in 2016 which allows pharmacists to sell Narcan, a drug that counteracts overdoses.

      Percy Menzies is the President of the Assisted Recovery Centers of America.  He told the committee that naltrexone is extremely effective and unlike Narcan, which is administered at the time of an overdose, it is preventative.  A person can take it to stave off a relapse.

“They can use it as a way to protect the neurons, the brain, from accidentally or impulsively using opioids.  Narcan’s half-life is only 30 to 45 minutes.  Naltrexone lasts for 24 hours, so you have a drug-free zone within your brain for a 24 hour period.”

      The committee heard that pharmacists would be able to give a person enough naltrexone to last several days.  Licensed clinical social worker Aaron Laxton explained this could then help bridge the time between when a person realizes they are about to relapse and when they can get into a treatment program.

“This is a stop-gap to allow us to get to the next week, until we can get to that open bed, until we can get to that clinical setting and we can start to make some strides.”

      Henrio Thelmaque with Assisted Recovery Centers of America and the Missouri Pharmacy Association also testified in support of the bill, saying, “The idea is to say, ‘Hey, if you are at risk of relapsing here is a preventative measure.”

      Thelmaque said relapses can often be triggered by stressful events such as the loss of a job or a breakup.  He said there have been greater instances of relapses in the last two years, likely due to the COVID pandemic.  He said last year there were 1,842 deaths in Missouri related to opioid overdoses.

      He said this bill could help significantly to reduce that number.

      “There shouldn’t even be one death regarding opioid overdoses, especially with the tools that we have now,” said Thelmaque.

      The committee voted 12-0 to advance Patterson’s bill.  Another favorable committee vote would send it to the full House.

Sponsor of bills to help overdose victims looks for next challenge in drug abuse fight

The sponsor of Missouri’s new law providing some immunity for those seeking help for overdose victims says he’s achieved all he set out to do, and is looking for other ways to help substance abusers.

Representative Steve Lynch (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Senate Bill 501 contained language offered by Representative Steve Lynch (R-Waynesville).  It provides immunity to anyone seeking medical help for themselves or anyone else who is overdosing, from crimes including possessing small amounts of drugs; probation, parole, or restraining order violations; and underage drinking.

Lynch said that combined with other laws allowing first responders, friends, and loved ones of abusers to have and administer naloxone – a drug that counteracts opioid overdoses – could save lives.  Lawmakers considering the bill heard that often a person will die of an overdose or from drinking too much because others don’t call for help out of fear they will be prosecuted for crimes or face other consequences.

“In North Carolina where they did their bills the same year it was just a couple years later that there were more drug rescues than there were overdose deaths,” said Lynch.  “We are certainly hoping that will be the case for us.”

Lynch also sponsored the language that in 2014 and 2016 became the laws related to naloxone.

He began working on these issues after learning that the son of one of his childhood friends died of a heroin overdose.

“What inspired me was he was taking his sadness and turning it into something positive, and he became an advocate that other parents wouldn’t have to go through what he did,” said Lynch, who said as he’s worked on these issues he’s seen many other parents who do the same.  “To turn all their energies around and to try and get laws changed, to raise awareness … It inspired me to get into an area that I don’t really know much about.”

Having sponsored now a series of laws aimed at saving the lives of overdose victims, Lynch is now wondering what the next such issue to tackle might be.  He’s meeting with the advocacy groups he’s worked with before in looking for the next steps that could be taken.

“Most of those areas are going to be in the treatment side and in the prevention side, and certainly those are so important,” said Lynch.  “Saving their lives is such a narrow part but important part of it, but if we can get people not to use it or if we can get people off of heroin or the opioid addiction … I’m really looking forward to making some progress on some treatment laws.”

Meanwhile, Lynch says there must be an awareness campaign so that people with drug problems know about the laws that have been passed in recent years and can take advantage of them.

“I’ve already talked to some of the people that I’ve been dealing with on these bills for years, particularly in the metropolitan areas, to run some big awareness [campaigns] that you can call because if they don’t know, they’re still not going to call,” said Lynch.  “Unfortunately it’s not just the metro areas that are having problems – it’s everywhere.”

The immunity law is often called the “Good Samaritan” law, or “Bailey and Cody’s Law,” for two overdose victims whose parents believe having it in place might have saved their children’s lives.