- Associated Press - Saturday, July 2, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A new South Carolina law aimed at reducing deaths from OxyContin, fentanyl and other opioids will allow people to obtain an anti-overdose drug in pharmacies without presenting a prescription.

State licensing boards for pharmacists and doctors have until Dec. 5 to approve rules for how naloxone can be dispensed, which will specify who can receive them and include requirements for documentation, storage and training.

“Having expanded access to this life-saving therapy I personally think is a great thing. We can save lives,” said Addison Livingston, a state Board of Pharmacy member and pharmacist at Hawthorne Pharmacy in Columbia. “Opioids are dangerous. Even if you’re taking a medication just like you’re supposed to, you may experience respiratory distress.”

Rep. Chip Huggins, R-Columbia, said Thursday he sponsored the bill at pharmacists’ requests. He likened it to their ability to give flu vaccines without a prescription. Pharmacists acting under the law are immune from civil or criminal liabilities or profession discipline.

The approved expansion, signed into law June 5, comes a year after legislators allowed law enforcement officers and firefighters to carry and use the drug on someone they believe is overdosing.

So far, the 300 officers statewide trained in using naloxone have administered it twice. Meanwhile, emergency medical responders used the drug about 4,600 times last year, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. The agency doesn’t track the number of lives saved.

Naloxone, which blocks opioids’ effects, is a safe antidote that’s easy to use. It comes in the form of a nasal spray or injection, similar to an EpiPen, said Livingston, also a member of a prescription drug abuse prevention council created by Gov. Nikki Haley.

“It’s been proven to work,” Dr. Stephen Gardner, president of the Board of Medical Examiners, said Wednesday. “The safety of this has been proven time and again.”

The law authorizes pharmacists to provide the drug to people “at risk” of an opioid overdose or their caregivers.

“The issue is how we determine what ‘at risk’ means,” Gardner, a neurosurgeon, said about writing the protocols.

The law will expand access to people with prescriptions for opioid medications, providing the antidote to patients as well as anyone in their household who may get hold of the drugs, he said.

“We’re trying to build in wherever the prescription drugs go, the antidote follows, if they’re at risk,” he said.

The two licensing boards must jointly approve the rules. Recommendations will come from an advisory committee of health care professionals they appoint. No meeting has yet been scheduled, said Lesia Kudelka, spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Nearly all states have a naloxone access law of some kind, though they vary widely. New Mexico became the first state to increase access in 2001, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Last month, North Carolina became the third state to provide unlimited access to naloxone in pharmacies. The neighboring state’s law created a statewide standing order at all pharmacies to immediately begin dispensing naloxone to anyone. Maryland and Pennsylvania have similar standing orders.

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