NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Heroin overdoses are being called an epidemic, and many who use heroin do so as a cheaper substitute for the high they got from prescription opioid drugs.
At the state Capitol on Tuesday, Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, pushed for more laws to make it easier to bring addicts out of near-death overdoses.
"We're very excited that this has come to the forefront of people's concepts of what drug treatment is all about," said Heidi Nuss with Odyssey House, an addiction treatment center.
Moreno's House Bill 1007 passed out of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. It allows anyone to possess Naloxone, the drug known to reverse opioid overdoses.
"This is the drug that immediately reverses the effects of an overdose," said Moreno to a lawmaker who asked her if the drug saves lives.
The bill is now on its way to the full state senate for consideration.
In January, the New Orleans Health Department was so alarmed by the number of heroin overdoses that it issued a citywide alert and standing order allowing family and friends of known addicts to purchase Naloxone at two locations without a prescription. One is the pharmacy at University Medical Center.
Moreno's bill allows pharmacies statewide to dispense the drug without prescriptions. Non-profit organizations would also be allowed to store and give away the drug without charging recipients.
"We would have a certain amount, and if we know if somebody is using opioids and they are at high risk for overdose, we could give this medication to them, or we could give it to a family member and educate them how to use it, which is very simple," said Nuss.
Some critics say the widespread availability could serve to enable people who are addicted to opioids, but people who work with addicts every day say that is simply not the case.
"If you're familiar with addiction, it's devastating when you have to tell a family member that their loved one has died," Nuss said. "I can't imagine what people are trying to do is somehow punish a person by telling them because they overdosed the consequence has to be they lose their life.
The life-saving drug could give addicts another chance to get clean.
"They can come into treatment and work on their addiction problems, but this will save their life," said Nuss.
Under the proposed law, anyone who administers the overdose reversing drug in good faith would be immune from criminal and civil liability. Moreno said 20 states allow for the drug to be purchased without a prescription.