New California Assembly bill could put Narcan in all 248 gas stations in Tulare County, other public places in order to quell fentanyl overdoses
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – A recent piece of legislation handed down by California Assemblymember Matt Haney could make opioid blockers available at almost any corner to put a stop to fentanyl-related deaths.
The piece of legislation, Assembly Bill (AB) 24, was introduced by Assemblymember Haney (D-San Francisco) on Dec. 20. It would require public spaces like gas stations to keep the opioid blocking nasal spray Narcan at their locations to combat overdoses from the synthetic opioid fentanyl. With 248 gas stations in Tulare County, according to the Tulare County Ag Commissioner Tom Tucker, the life-saving treatment could be available at a handful of locations within county lines.
According to a press release from the assemblyman’s office, Haney said the bill aims to increase public health responses to fentanyl-related overdoses. Although law enforcement across the state is working to prevent the spread amongst communities, he said this problem is spreading at a rate that will only get worse before it gets better.
“If fentanyl continues to be cheaper and more accessible than opioid blockers, we’re going to keep seeing an increase in overdose deaths,” Haney said via press release. “Until we can cut off the source of fentanyl, we have a responsibility to make sure the only effective first aid response is always there when it’s needed.”
According to the press release from the assemblyman’s office, previous efforts to distribute opioid blockers focused on getting naloxone, known commonly by the brand name Narcan, to opioid users themselves. However, a weakness identified with this approach was that drug users can’t self-administer the spray once they are unconscious. In order for the treatment to work it requires someone close to the overdosed individual having access to the medication. With AB 24, a focus is on putting the nasal spray treatment – as well as instructions on how to use it – into the hands of employees in public locations where people are more likely to overdose.
Additionally, AB 24 is based on similar public health interventions that use emergency tools to be posted in public locations. Like first aid kits and fire extinguishers, the opioid blocker nasal spray must be available for public usage at the locations specified in the law, if it is passed. In accordance with the bill’s requirements, the California Department of Public Health (CPDH) will do compliance checks during regular safety inspections. Similarly to other emergency intervention tools, locations that do not keep the nasal spray in a place accessible to employees will be fined up to a $1,000.
Also according to the press release, California is reaching new levels in the opioid crisis and experts attribute that incline to the availability of fentanyl. Since last spring, the California Department of Justice has seized over 4 million fentanyl pills and nearly 900 pounds of fentanyl powder since April 2021. Additionally, for 2021, the CPDH reported 6,483 opioid-related overdose deaths in the state and 5,722 were related to fentanyl. From those deaths, 224 of them were amongst teenagers aged 15 to 19 years old.
According to the CDPH, an important way to address the ever-growing opioid epidemic is to recognize that opioid abuse and overdose is tied closely to other trends in the state. As Califorina has seen rising rates of social inequities, homelessness, mental illness and despair, the state has also observed an increase in opioid abuse, addiction and overdose deaths. Although the CPDH website states that this trend has been observed more so amongst societies who are marginalized more than most, it also states that the epidemic poses a serious threat to all individuals throughout the state.
At the latest American College of Emergency Physician Scientific Assembly in October, which provides educational and networking opportunities for emergency medicine professionals worldwide, Dr. Paula Whiteman, MD spoke on the importance of opioid blockers. At the event, she said fentanyl can be reversed entirely within 30 seconds by using an opioid blocker nasal spray as a first aid treatment.
“The medication binds to the same receptors in the brain used by opioids and reverses or blocks the drug,” Whiteman said at the assembly. “There are no side effects and they are completely safe to use, even if it turns out the person is having a medical issue other than an overdose.”