"Aaron's Law" allows greater access to Naloxone prescriptions
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller issued an official legal opinion Friday morning clarifying that a new state law allows medical professionals to prescribe Naloxone -- an antidote to an opioid or heroin overdose -- to family members and others who provide care for those at risk of overdoses.
The legislation, dubbed Aaron's Law, was authored by State Sen. Jim Merritt and passed by the Indiana Legislature during its 2015 session to help reduce overdose deaths.
Trust for America's Health reports drug overdoses as the leading cause of injury deaths in Indiana. Half of these overdose deaths involve prescription opioids. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, can counteract the effects of an opioid or heroin overdose if administered in time. Family members of persons suffering from such opioid or heroin addictions have expressed interest in having the overdose antidote prescribed in advance so it is readily available if needed.
Because of concern that uncertainty over how to interpret the new law has prevented medical professionals from more widely issuing Naloxone prescriptions, Sen. Merritt asked the Attorney General's Office for a legal opinion on how the statute should be interpreted.
Zoeller's opinion issued today confirms that Senate Enrolled Act 406, also known as "Aaron's Law," indeed does authorize prescribers to use standing orders to dispense Naloxone. They can dispense it to any individual or entity that may be in a position to assist a person experiencing an opioid-related overdose, such as a family member who provides care for the person at risk of overdose. To be authorized, the standing order must contain:
Instructions to summon emergency services immediately before or after administering the drug,
Education and training on drug overdose response and treatment, including the administration of naloxone, and
Information and referrals to drug addiction treatment and programs, including local programs that offer medication assisted treatment.
The Attorney General's opinion also asserts that qualifying entities under the statute could include organizations such as community health centers, jails, counseling and recovery centers, and others.
"Naloxone is a life-saving antidote for what would otherwise be overdose deaths. The clear legislative intent of this statute is to encourage medical professionals to more widely prescribe Naloxone and remove any actual or perceived legal barriers," said Zoeller, who co-chairs the Indiana Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force. "The spirit of Aaron's Law is to prevent young lives from being lost to overdose and I urge medical professionals to exercise this new authority responsibly to help concerned family members who are in positions to help prevent more overdose deaths."
Zoeller said Aaron's Law provides civil immunity to individuals who administer Naloxone in good faith to an overdose victim. The new legislation follows a 2014 update to the Indiana Lifeline Law that gave civil immunity to first responders who administer Naloxone in the course of their duties.
"Heroin use is rising to epidemic levels in Indiana, and Hoosiers are losing their lives to this dangerous drug," Merritt said. "Many deaths caused by heroin can be prevented. The new law I authored allowing family members and friends of addicts to obtain a prescription for Naloxone will save lives. I appreciate the Attorney General's formal opinion on this matter. Hopefully it provides peace of mind to medical professionals."
More than 70 percent of heroin users say they started out abusing prescription drugs.
As the lawyer for state elected officials and state agencies, the Attorney General's Office at the request of its state government clients can research legal opinions on how statutes should be interpreted. Although legally non-binding upon courts, the AG's legal opinions are intended to help clients navigate complex intergovernmental questions and anticipate how newly-passed laws will operate in conjunction with longstanding statutes. Official opinions such as the one on Aaron's Law are published in the Indiana Register and posted on the Attorney General's Office's web site to provide informal guidance to other entities and the general public.
As co-chair and creator of the Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force, Zoeller has been supportive of legislative efforts to increase availability of Naloxone and help save lives. He said physician and pharmacist involvement could play a critical role in curbing the opioid overdose epidemic particularly among at-risk and vulnerable populations. Both professions have access to INSPECT, the state's prescription drug monitoring program, providing them with the ability to identify such targeted populations.
Zoeller recently announced Indiana's involvement in a national pharmaceutical settlement that will provide $1.3 million in continued funding toward Rx abuse prevention efforts, including supporting community Naloxone programs. The Task Force's website, www.BitterPill.in.gov, contains a toolkit to assist law enforcement and other first responders in setting up Naloxone programs.
More information on the Task Force and the Attorney General's efforts to reduce prescription drug abuse can be found at www.BitterPill.in.gov.