PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A bill that would break down barriers to access fast-acting opioid medication and substance use treatment for minors passed the Oregon House on Monday with bipartisan support.
House Bill 2395 is known as the Opioid Harm Reduction Package. It was drafted in response to the opioid and illicit fentanyl crisis affecting the state.
The bill would make naloxone kits more available in public buildings such as restaurants, grocery stores, police departments and schools.
Naloxone can be either administered by a nasal spray or injection. It is a drug that quickly reverses an overdose from opioids, including heroin, fentanyl or other prescription medication. People are already allowed to carry naloxone, but HB 2395 would allow pharmacists to prescribe it and allows publicly-accessible buildings to store naloxone kits and ensures staff will not be held liable for using the kits.
When administered to a person experiencing an overdose, naloxone can restore their breathing and block the effects of opioids.
“Naloxone is extremely safe and effective and will help us save hundreds of lives. Even if you do not have opioids in your body, there’s no side effect or danger,” said Rep. Maxine Dexter, a Democrat from Portland who introduced the bill.
She believes passing the bill will help equip Oregon with the tools it needs to respond to the opioid crisis and will give Oregonians who are struggling with addiction a chance to receive treatment.
“There’s no recovery in death and what these tools do is it keeps people alive,” Dexter told KOIN 6 News. “We need to do all that we can to make sure that people have the opportunity to get into recovery who want it.”
Rep. Janelle Bynum, a Democrat who represents Happy Valley and North Clackamas County, was another chief sponsor of the bill. She said over the past year, she’s met with family members, law enforcement and first responders who said too often it’s vulnerable youth who are dying from unintentional overdoses.
HB 2395 would allow minors to obtain outpatient diagnosis or treatment for substance use disorder from a mental care provider without parental knowledge or consent.
It would also decriminalize the distribution of fentanyl test strips and allow first responders to distribute naloxone kits to anyone who needs or requests one.
“A short-acting opioid antagonist is not a miracle cure for the deeper roots of addiction, but it is an incredibly easy-to-use, affordable tool that has one purpose: to reverse an overdose,” said Rep. Dacie Grayber, a Democrat from Southwest Portland and Beaverton.
The bill passed with a vote of 48-9. The nine people who voted against it are all Republicans. Fourteen Republicans voted in favor of the bill and two were excused from Monday’s session. All Democrats in attendance voted for the bill to pass.
Republican state lawmakers Rep. Ed Diehl, of Stayton, and Rep. Christine Goodwin, of Canyonville, are both members of the Behavioral Health and Health Care Committee. They each voted differently on the bill.
Diehl said he voted in support of it for one primary reason: making opioid antagonists readily available to counteract overdoses.
“In my speech on the House floor, I referenced several personal examples in which had a counteract medication been available, I might still have my family and friends here today. However, I want to be very clear, this is not a solution to Oregon’s drug epidemic. This is simply one way to save lives in the meantime,” he said.
Goodwin feels there are several concerning elements in the bill that outweigh the positives.
“A few of these elements included a focus on harm reduction instead of recognizing the root cause of Oregon’s drug crisis, and removing criminal prohibitions on selling or possessing certain drug paraphernalia. I did not feel that I could vote for this bill for these reasons,” she said.
Focus on working upstream
Addiction and homeless outreach workers want lawmakers to focus on working upstream.
For decades, Kristle Delihanty was addicted to heroin. Now in her recovery she has made it her life’s work through PDX Saints Love to help others struggling with addiction on Portland’s streets.
“Harm reduction is important. Narcan is important. I just want to see those conversations balanced out where we’re talking about treatment and infrastructure, awareness and education,” Delihanty said.
While she’s not against harm reduction efforts like HB 2395, she hopes lawmakers start pushing for more preventative action.
“I will tell you 100% that I have conversations all of the time where somebody just wants to get into treatment and sometimes the only thing I can hand them is Narcan,” she said. “And that breaks my heart.”
Dexter said lawmakers are committed to correcting the lack of treatment — but good change takes time.
“We are fully aware of our failure to supply enough opportunity for treatment,” Dexter said.
Her bill won’t solve the opioid crisis. But she and her supporters say it will save lives.
The bill is scheduled to have its first reading in the state’s Senate on Tuesday, March 7.