Michigan bills to combat opioid overdoses advance to Senate Floor


Soraya Marashi


The Michigan Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee heard testimony on bills to help combat possible opioid overdoses last week. 


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Senate Bill 1170, sponsored by Sen. Curt VanderWall (R – Ludington), would amend the Administration of Opioid Antagonists Act to specify that an agency that purchased or obtained an opioid antagonist, or an employee of an agency that possessed an opioid antagonist, can distribute that opioid antagonist directly or indirectly to any individual. 

SB 1171, also sponsored by VanderWall, would amend the Public Health Code to allow a prescriber to issue a prescription for an opioid antagonist and allow a dispensing prescriber or pharmacist to dispense an opioid antagonist to an agency authorized to obtain an opioid antagonist under the Administration of Opioid Antagonists Act.

The bills are tie-barred, meaning neither bill could take effect unless the other were also enacted.

The Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS) considers the opioid epidemic one of the greatest public health crises the state has ever faced. Since 2000, opioid overdoses have increased ten-fold, and in 2018, there were more deaths from drug overdoses than car crashes in Michigan.

While MDHHS data indicates a decrease in opioid-related deaths in 2019, the department says that in 2020, pandemic-related challenges exacerbated the overdose epidemic and resulted in an increase in total drug overdose deaths in the state.

Efforts to combat the opioid epidemic in Michigan have also been underway, with the creation of the Michigan Opioids Task Force in August 2019. MDHHS notes that there has been a 22% decrease in opioid prescriptions from 2015 to 2018, a 323% increase in physicians and pharmacists registered to use the Michigan Automated Prescription System (MAPS), and a 434% increase in times physicians/pharmacists checked patient prescription history using MAPS. 

VanderWall spoke in support of the bills at the committee meeting. 

“SB 1170 will allow [certain] employees to distribute opioid antagonists like naloxone to individuals as they can’t do right now,” he said. “[They can only] possess and administer it. We want to be able to get naloxone to those that need it. The bill will also allow agencies to be able to receive donations of naloxone and not be required to purchase it … As we continue to fight opioid use, we also need to make sure that we are increasingly available to the antagonist should someone need it.” 

Anthony Buffa, Director of Government Affairs at the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, also testified in support of the bill. He said the sheriff’s office is one of the agencies that would be impacted by this legislation. While they had installed Narcan vending machines in Oakland County jails and had been advising inmates to take a Narcan kit with them upon their release, attorneys of the sheriff’s office found that the office was currently not authorized to dispense Narcan to the public.

“Law enforcement’s immunity from liability was only to administer the product,” Buffa said. “This legislation would fix that and allow us to continue what we believe to be a lifesaving program without fear of a potential lawsuit.”

The bills have been referred to the Senate Floor after passing the committee hearing unanimously.