MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will use part of tonight’s State-of-the-State address – his last in office – to highlight his administration’s continuing efforts to fight substance abuse by proposing two additional measures aimed at building on that foundation.
One measure calls for making Narcan -the commercial name of naloxone, a medication that reverses opiate overdoses – available for purchase across the counter without a prescription, he said.
The other proposal would require clinics that prescribe Suboxone or methadone to treat opiate addiction also have a plan for weaning patients off it; otherwise it is basically substituting one drug for another, Tomblin said.
It’s an especially important time to keep moving forward since the state has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths nationally – an impact that isn’t lost at the local level, he said.
“I do care about this issue because it affects so many people and families. I have watched it over the last several years move across the state, and just about everywhere you go in the state this subject comes up,” Tomblin said.
“And I do think just about everybody has been affected by it – even if it is just someone they knew down the street. It is really crippling our society, so we want to do everything we can to get people help or perhaps even help them avoid going down this path,” he said.
Expanding the availability of Narcan was an important legislative success last year, Tomblin said.
State law formerly only allowed EMS personnel to administer it, but legislators approved a bill so that others – including police, firefighters and other emergency responders as well as family members and friends of heroin addicts – can now carry it.
However, individuals must have training before they can receive a prescription for it.
“There is no doubt that Narcan saves lives. This past year there were more than 3,000 doses of Narcan dispensed across West Virginia,” he said.
Now, the next step is to make it available without a prescription, Tomblin said.
“Basically it would also require every pharmacist in the state to know how to administer it, because we’ve been told – mostly by pharmacists – that it doesn’t do any good to have it without knowing how to use it,” he said.
“This would also let us keep track of how it is being distributed, because we don’t want to bring heroin addicts around just so they can go ahead and overdose again because they know Narcan will bring them back to life again,” Tomblin said.
Noting that some clinics dispensing Suboxone and methadone are so popular that “people form long lines around them just waiting to get inside,” Tomblin said there’s need for some changes with them, too.
“If not, it’s just really expanding substance use and that can go on for years. So what we are looking at is for people receiving those medications to have some sort of a timeline or support program to go along with getting substance abuse free. It’s important to have that as part of this ongoing treatment so they can step down,” he said.
“This is important because people seem to be just as addicted to these drugs as what they were taking before. Clinics just have to do a better job in this regard, providing support services like counseling rather than just having folks come in every so many days to get a refill. The goal is to also cut back on the use of these two drugs, so they would have to change their way of treatment,” he said.
Overall, Tomblin is optimistic about the legislative session that begins today.
“We will have a fairly aggressive agenda for this session and will deal with a lot of issues, including some budget issues – which is something I’ve been doing for about 37 years now, and we’ll get through it,” Tomblin said.
Staff writer Jenni Vincent can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 131, or www.twitter.com/jennivincentwv.