Dold pushes to expand availability of heroin overdose antidote
U.S. Rep. Robert Dold is taking a suburban effort to save the lives of overdosing heroin users to the federal level.
On Monday in Arlington Heights, the Kenilworth Republican introduced a bill to create a grant to expand the availability of naloxone, a heroin overdose antidote. The bill is named Lali's Law after a Stevenson High School graduate, Alex Laliberte, who died seven years ago of a heroin overdose.
"Lali's Law will help states increase access to naloxone, and that is absolutely critical if we want to save lives," Dold said during his appearance at Live4Lali, a nonprofit anti-heroin advocacy group founded by Alex's sister, Chelsea Laliberte.
Introduction of a federal version of Lali's Law follows the passage in September of a state version that allows drugstores to dispense naloxone to customers without a prescription once pharmacists have completed training and received a standing order from the state.
With $500,000 proposed to be distributed over three years, the federal version could help pay to implement the state law in Illinois and ensure naloxone access at pharmacies in 41 other states that allow access to naloxone.
"The state version of Lali's Law is already saving lives," Dold said. "And coupled with this federal bill, we'll be able to save many, many more."
Paramedics have carried naloxone on ambulances for years because of its ability to reverse the effects of a heroin or opioid overdose, which can cause the user to stop breathing. During the past few years, its use has expanded among police as suburban counties including DuPage and Lake have trained officers to use it when they respond first to an apparent overdose.
In Lake County, Mundelein Director of Public Safety Chief Eric Guenther said police have saved 56 lives using naloxone, and in DuPage, the number of saves hit 100 early this year.
Naloxone and other forms of the overdose antidote called Narcan or Evzio work by knocking opioids off the receptors they stimulate. Within about two minutes, the antidote reverses the overdose and restores the user's breathing, according to the FDA, which recently approved a nasal spray version of naloxone in addition to versions given by injection or auto-injector.
"It works," Laliberte said about the antidote. "It gives those struggling another chance to choose recovery."
The $500,000 grant that could be created through the federal bill Dold described Monday would be called the Opioid Overdose Reversal Medication Access and Education Grant. Each state could apply for it only once during the three years it would be available.
Dold said Illinois and other states could use the money to educate prescribers and the public about naloxone's benefits, develop training materials and establish standing orders to allow pharmacies to distribute the antidote.
In Illinois, where there's now no state budget, Laliberte said rolling out naloxone availability at pharmacies is a slow process. Walgreens and CVS this month announced plans to sell naloxone without a prescription in 35 states, but it still takes time.
"It does take resources to go through training or to be able to roll out a program," Dold said. "We want to make sure we can roll it out easier ... so that resources (aren't) the problem to making sure naloxone gets into the hands of those that need it."
Saving overdose victims with naloxone is one way suburban officials are trying to decrease the death toll from heroin, which in 2015 killed at least 160 people in DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties and the Northwest suburbs in Cook County.
In 2008, Alex Laliberte was among the victims heroin took.
"Once he got sucked in, it escalated and he couldn't stop," Alex's mother, Jody Daitchman, said about her son's addiction. "Oh, how I wish naloxone had been available when Alex died."
As naloxone use has increased, so has its cost, with some hospitals reporting they pay four times the price for each dose of the drug than they did two years ago.
"This bill is not designed in terms of dealing with the cost. ... Our goal here is to try to make sure that we've got access to naloxone," Dold said. "That is one of the steps and we have to address the next step as it comes."