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Federal Narcan good Samaritan law proposed

Sen. Edward Markey has introduced federal legislation to expand and clarify the legal protections for good samaritans, police and firefighters administering the opiate overdose antidote Narcan.

Narcan is the common brand name for the chemical compound naloxone hydrochloride. Emergency medical workers administer the antidote by syringe, and in Massachusetts bystanders trained and provided with it through a state pilot program may administer Narcan as a nasal spray.

The Opioid Overdose Reduction Act would provide a single shield against civil suits — and the chilling effect of the fear of potential lawsuit — for individuals trained to administer legally-obtained Narcan, a shield which apparently does not exist although protections can be found or interpreted in various sections of federal and state law.

Massachusetts’ good Samaritan language relative to CPR, for instance, includes protection for anyone “who in good faith attempts to render emergency care including, but not limited to, cardiopulmonary resuscitation or defibrillation.” The language excludes medical professionals and anyone paid for the help.

At the federal level, a law enforcement officer good Samaritan act would seem to provide similar protection for police.

The proposed law would protect individuals administering Narcan — and its prescribers or distribution program employees — from liability in the event something goes wrong. The language applies only to people provided with and trained to use the drug by a health care professional or overdose prevention program trainer.

“This would protect police and fire use of Narcan, and actually the senator has called for the expansion of Narcan and naloxone for all first responders, if they so wanted,” said Markey spokeswoman Giselle Barry.

A 2012 Massachusetts good Samaritan law protects 911 callers seeking medical help for an overdose victim from most drug charges. The final provision allows persons acting in good faith to administer Narcan, although ambiguities exist in the language relative to the need for a prescription and the circumstances in which it may be used.

Athol Police Chief Timothy Anderson was the first in the area to begin down this road, and other area departments have expressed interest as police are often the first on the scene of a reported overdose.

Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan has also called for all first responders to carry Narcan, as the number of heroin and prescription opioid overdose deaths — and stories of lives saved by Narcan — surged this winter.

Nasal Narcan trainings take less than an hour and include recognizing the signs of an opiate overdose, simple rescue breathing and calling 911. Calling 911 is the first step as Narcan’s effect is shorter-lived than the drugs it competes with, and the victim may slip back into an overdose, or the level of opiates in the user’s system may require multiple doses. In Massachusetts, a 911 good Samaritan law protects bystanders from possession or similar charges when reporting an overdose.

Introduced Thursday, Markey’s law is still in the very early stages of the legislative process, Barry said.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include information about the state's good Samaritan law.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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