Capitol Connection: Combating Opioid Overdoses

April 23, 2015

Opioid overdoses are becoming increasingly common across the nation, including right here in Connecticut. Between 2009 and 2013, our state saw approximately 1,540 accidental and unintentional opioid involved deaths occurring in 143 different towns. Clearly, this problem is widespread and impacts families from all walks of life.

In light of this sad trend, this year the General Assembly is exploring new ways to make Narcan, an overdose “antidote,” more accessible to the public and to provide more training to people who may have to administer the treatment to a loved one.

Narcan is an opioid antagonist that fights off the effects of opioid overdoses. When a person takes an opioid, such as heroin, oxycodone or Vicodin, the drug binds to receptors in the body and brain that can affect breathing, among many bodily functions. If doses are high enough, the body doesn’t recognize when it needs to breathe – that’s how overdoses can lead to death. Narcan fights off the opioids that are bonded to receptors in the body and is meant to be used as an emergency treatment while waiting for professional medical attention.

In recent years, Connecticut has taken steps to increase the availability of Narcan. In 2012 a law was passed to allow physicians to prescribe Narcan to any person to prevent or treat a drug overdose. Last year, the state legislature expanded the law to allow any person to administer Narcan to someone who has overdosed, as opposed to just allowing medical professionals to administer.

This year, the debate is focused on pharmacists. The question is: should anyone be able to walk into a pharmacy, explain their situation and purchase Narcan on the spot?

Some say yes, because Narcan has no known negative effects and has no effect on a person who has not taken opioids. Some say no, because of concerns that increased access to Narcan, a “safety net” antidote, could condone more drug use.

New legislation on the table this year supports the accessibility argument and would give pharmacists the ability to sell Narcan to people without a doctor’s prescription. House Bill No. 5782 An Act Authorizing Pharmacists to Dispense or Administer Opioid Antagonists would allow pharmacists to both dispense and administer Narcan, so long as they have been trained and certified by the Department of Consumer protection. In addition, this bill would require pharmacists to provide appropriate training to patients purchasing Narcan and keep a written record of all purchases.

While all doctors can now prescribe Narcan, people who don’t have a primary care provider may find it difficult to find a doctor to prescribe the treatment drug. By enabling pharmacists – who are often more accessible than doctors – to prescribe Narcan and by training them in how to train others could offer help to those who have nowhere else to turn.

Narcan is an incredible medical tool that is becoming more and more commonplace across the country. By adding pharmacists to the discussion, CT could not only increase access, more importantly, we could increase training and education for people at risk and their families. To me, this issue is as much about education as it is about access – and more training is a good thing.

Sen. Witkos, Senate Minority Leader Pro Tempore, represents the 8th District towns of Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and Torrington. For more information visit or