03/19/2014 03:59 pm ET Updated May 19, 2014

Federal Legislation: SOS Act, But Is It Enough for NY?

There is a crisis in our country, a nationwide overdose health crisis, and the federal government is listening. Maryland Congresswomen Donna Edwards (R-MD) reintroduced the Stop Overdose Stat Act (S.O.S Act) to support community based efforts to prevent fatal drug overdoses. This legislation would provide federal support for overdose prevention programs run by community agencies and municipal, state and tribal governments.

You may not think that this concerns you, but it does. Everyone knows someone who has passed away from an overdose or complications of substance use disorders. It is time to admit that it is not going away and we need help. We need to address the issue head on and we need the federal government to provide local communities with the dollars they need to prevent further deaths. And we need the states to do their part as well to provide access to information, training and medicines that can reverse overdose.

"As Americans, we rally around efforts to fight breast cancer, childhood diseases and other serious health threats. But for far too long, there have only been hushed whispers about prescription drug abuse - now the fastest growing drug problem in America. So as the death toll from prescription drug overdoses continues to rise sharply, it's time to move this story from the obituary page to the front page where it belongs." -- Former Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack

The S.O.S. Act is looking to provide federal dollars to overdose prevention programs to train people to recognize the signs of overdose, seek emergency medical help and administer naloxone, an overdose reversal medication. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a drug fatality occurs in the U.S every 14 minutes and death from overdose claim more than 100 lives a day. While overdose from illegal drugs persist as a major health issue, fatal overdoses from prescribed opioid pain medication such as oxycodone account for more than 40 percent of all overdose deaths. The administration of naloxone in a timely fashion would reverse the effects of overdose from heroin or opioid medication and save lives.

The S.O.S. legislation would bring federal dollars into the communities where it is needed the most in rural areas, small towns and the suburbs where overdose from prescription pain medication and heroin is at epidemic proportions. Four main points of the bill would provide for:

  • A grant program administered by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Accurate and detailed reporting of overdose to the CDC
  • Development of a national plan to reduce overdose deaths submitted to Congress within 180 days after law is enacted
  • New and expanded research grants on overdose through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Although the federal legislation, as it stands now (see below), is potentially helpful in that it creates a federal grants program to support overdose prevention programs, detailed reporting of overdose and research, it does not guarantee funding for states and does not address the regulatory barriers to everyday people, or non-emergency/medical personnel accessing naloxone. It would still be difficult to go to your local doctor and pharmacy when needing naloxone on hand for a possible overdose of a family member.

While the federal government is finally starting to act, so too are the states. In New York, a recently introduced overdose prevention bill (see below) sponsored by Senator Hannon, and Assemblyman Dinowitz is co-sponsored by dozens of lawmakers and will ease the regulatory hurdles to naloxone and expand access for anyone that may find themselves in a position where they can save a life from a fatal opioid overdose. Right now, the NY state bill is the only option in play to ensure that bystanders who are non-emergency personnel acquire this much needed antidote. Studies have shown that most accidental overdoses happen in the care of family members or friends who did not recognize the signs of overdose, were afraid to call 911 and nor had ready access to naloxone. We can change that in NY. We need passage of the NY overdose prevention bill to address our growing overdose epidemic.

According to NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the current overdose prevention program in NY has allowed over 600 overdose reversals by lay people since 2006, but with over 1,500 overdoses a year in NY, much more access is needed. Passing the NY overdose prevention bill would bring hope to families that are dealing with opiate and heroin substance use disorders within their families. They need all the tools available to keep their loved ones alive. These families know that if there is life, there is hope. There is hope that their loved one will seek professional treatment and get the care that they may need.

The S.O.S. Act may start to address the growing overdose epidemic in our country at the federal level with tools that our communities need, but we also need support at the state level. We need to educate individuals to recognize an overdose and call 911. We need to provide naloxone training and we need to provide easy access to naloxone to all of those that need it. As Congresswomen Mary Bono Mack stated, "We need to move the story from the obituary page to the front page."

The full text of the S.O.S. Act is available on GovTrack.

To contact Congress, click here.

The full text of the NY overdose bill is here.

To contact the NY Senate, click here.