United States Department of Justice
United States Attorneys
Northern and Southern Districts of West Virginia
March 17, 2015
Dear Medical Professional:
In the past few years, West Virginia’s rate of overdose deaths has consistently been number 1 or number 2 in the nation. This ignominious distinction was achieved through this state’s high rate of addiction to and abuse of prescription narcotics. Through a number of efforts, we have had substantial success in limiting the supply of prescription drugs on the streets. However, because there has not been a corresponding decrease in demand, addicts have resorted to heroin—a lower cost, often higher potency alternative to prescription narcotics. As you can appreciate, this shift to heroin has the potential to cause our drug overdose death rate to continue its climb.
On March 9, 2015, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed Senate Bill 335 into law. This legislation specifically permits licensed health care providers to prescribe opioid antagonists, such as naloxone, to initial responders, as well as individuals at risk of experiencing an opiate overdose, their relatives, friends or caregivers. The legislation also limits the potential civil and criminal liability for licensed health care providers writing such prescriptions. Opioid antagonists save lives by reversing the sedation and respiratory suppression commonly experienced during an opiate overdose with minimal risk of serious side effects. States with similar laws have seen significant reductions in opiate-related overdose deaths.
We encourage you to prescribe naloxone to those you deem to be at risk of an opiate overdose, as well as their family members and friends. Pursuant to the legislation, these prescriptions would be accompanied by educational materials on administering the medication. Access to opioid antagonists empowers community members to effectively respond during an overdose emergency and increases the likelihood that individuals struggling with addiction can be directed to treatment resources. We are confident that by expanding access to naloxone, we will see a notable decline in the number of West Virginians losing their lives to opiate overdoses. With your help in this fight, we can save lives and tackle the unforgiving grip of addiction. Thank you for all that you do for your patients and West Virginia as a whole.
William J. Ihlenfeld, II R. Booth Goodwin, II
US Attorney: Northern District of WV US Attorney: Southern District of WV