ALBANY -- State lawmakers have passed a bill that would widen access to a heroin-overdose antidote, hoping to reduce the rapid growth of overdose deaths across the state.
The bill would make naloxone, the fast-acting antidote often known by its brand name, Narcan, available through nonspecific prescriptions. Expansion likely would come in two stages, backers said -- first giving prescriptions to drug-counseling groups that deal with addicts; then allowing pharmacists to distribute to, say, family members who are in contact with addicts.
The state Assembly gave the measure final passage, 136-0 on Tuesday evening, after the Senate approved it, 60-0. in March. That no lawmaker of either party voted "no" underscores the urgency of taking action, supporters said. The bill now goes to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for signature or veto.
If signed this would mark the second major expansion of access to Narcan this year.
Earlier this month, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced he would allocate $5 million to supply Narcan kits to 39 police agencies across the state.
Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) said the naloxone bill is "one more weapon in our arsenal of trying to deal with the heroin epidemic."
"It has been estimated that heroin addiction on Long Island has increased nearly fourfold since 2011," Hannon said. "This crisis is not unique to Long Island -- it is ravaging communities across the state."
A record 121 people died of heroin overdose in Nassau and Suffolk in 2012. Another 120 people overdosed last year, officials have said.
Many police and emergency service agencies now are stocked with naloxone, legislators said. The bill would allow for "nonpatient-specific prescriptions" for the drug that could be issued to counseling services or, say, families that know heroin addicts, said Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan).
The assemblyman and other supporters, at a news conference to urge Cuomo to sign the bill, said naloxone has "no effect if no opioids are in the body." The bill requires the state Health Department to come up with regulations to implement the naloxone prescription program. No time table is mandated.
Gottfried said the measure "could not have been enacted 10 years ago" but came about now because of a new focus on reducing harm. "Yes, we should stop opioid abuse. But we should also work to reduce deaths from opioid overdoses," he said.
Cuomo's office didn't immediately comment.
Hannon, noting the Senate has held public meetings on the heroin epidemic around the state this year, said more legislation is likely before lawmakers adjourn for the year on June 19.