California is joining five other states in allowing residents to access the overdose antidote naloxone without a prescription. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law on Monday.
Naloxone is regularly used in emergency rooms to restore breathing in people who overdose on opiates such as oxycodone and heroin. Until now it has only been available in California through a doctor's prescription or from one of a handful of naloxone distribution programs. Once the law takes effect on January 1, pharmacists will be able to provide the drug to family members or the drug user directly to have on hand in case of an overdose.
The state pharmacy and medical boards will develop guidelines for pharmacists on when and how to dispense naloxone. The law also calls for education and training for pharmacists and consumers.
The author of the bill, Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), said the law "will have a real and immediate impact on reducing overdose deaths in California and will empower families throughout the state to access this life-saving drug."
"Lives can be lost in the minutes waiting for an officer or an ambulance to arrive with naloxone," said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, one of the co-sponsors of the bill. The California Pharmacists Association was also a co-sponsor.
Naloxone is already available from a pharmacist without a prescription in Washington, Rhode Island, New Mexico, New York and Vermont.