The laws voted on by the General Assembly for the state of Virginia back in February took effect on July 1. The laws ranged from new hunting gear requirements to campus assault procedures. One law in particular has to do with the current opioid crisis that has been facing our state.
The law is referred to as; HB 1750. Dispensing of naloxone; patient-specific order not required, and it states the following new procedure.
“The law provides that a pharmacist may dispense naloxone in the absence of a patient-specific prescription pursuant to a standing order issued by the Commissioner of Health authorizing the dispensing of naloxone or other opioid antagonist used for overdose reversal in the absence of an oral or written order for a specific patient issued by a prescriber and in accordance with protocols developed by the Board of Pharmacy in consultation with the Board of Medicine and the Department of Health.”
Naloxone is a drug used to prevent the effects of an opioid overdose, it is a lifesaving pill. This new law simply gives the power to Virginia pharmacists to administer this drug in an emergency without a doctor’s permission.
This seems like a good choice to me, the event of an overdose is always an emergency and the more quickly one can gain access to this pill the less lives we lose. However, the connotations of having to pass this law in the first place are what frightens me.
In 2016 Governor McAuliffe declared the opioid crisis in Virginia a Public Health Emergency. Much of this had to do with evidence that the heroin circulating in our state had Carfentanil within it, a highly dangerous synthetic opioid used to sedate large animals such as elephants.
Many states went even further, declaring states of emergency over the opioid crisis, Arizona was the latest to join that list. Their Governor declared a state of emergency in June of this year. The distinction between a Public Health Emergency and State of Emergency are subtle, but important.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, a Public Health Emergency means the following. “State laws providing public health emergency powers permit designated officials — typically governors and their top health officers — to take extraordinary legal actions. The laws provide flexibility in responding to emergency situations, when adherence to ordinary legal standards and processes could cost lives.”
Meanwhile the list of actions that can be taken when a State of Emergency is declared is more extensive.
Activation of state emergency operations center and incident command system (ICS).
Authority to expend funds and deploy personnel, equipment, supplies, and stockpiles.
Activation of statutory immunities and liability protections for those involved in response activities.
Suspension and waiver of rules and regulations (and statutes, if allowed).
Streamlining of state administrative procedures such as procurement requirements.
Obviously a Public Health Emergency was declared as a prerequisite to the new law that was passed. My question is, how close are we to having a State of Emergency declared in Virginia? Is it the right choice in order to distribute funds to this growing issue? Only time will tell, but its something we should keep in mind as we cast our vote for the next Governor in November.