U.S. Rep. Brittany Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat, announces legislation that would reimburse hospitals for distributing naloxone to patients at risk of an overdose Thursday, Aug. 31, at Swedish Medical Center. (Lindsey Toomer/Colorado Newsline)
A bill U.S. Rep. Brittany Pettersen plans to introduce in Congress will allow hospitals across the country to get reimbursed for distributing opioid overdose-reversal treatments to people at risk for an overdose.
Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat who is vocal about her mother’s experience recovering from an opioid addiction stemming from a pain-management prescription, announced the legislation Thursday, Overdose Awareness Day, at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, where her mother was treated multiple times.
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“This is my first time back since I visited the ER and some of you had to tell me that my mom might not make it,” Pettersen said. “I was just walking the halls and going back to a time in our lives where I was trying to fight to save my mom’s life. She was begging for help and there was nowhere to go, and Swedish Medical hospital saved my mom’s life many times.”
After her mother was cut off from her prescription, Pettersen said her mother feared withdrawal more than she feared death. She turned to heroin and eventually fentanyl, leading to repeated overdoses and emergency room visits. But, Pettersen said nobody had told her and her family about naloxone, an overdose reversal medication, and how it could save someone from an overdose-related death.
While some hospitals have started keeping naloxone on site to distribute to at-risk patients, the bulk of these hospitals pay for the treatment themselves, and others have been told by governing bodies in their states they can’t distribute the drug.
This is my first time back since I visited the ER and some of you had to tell me that my mom might not make it.
– U.S. Rep. Brittany Pettersen, at Swedish Medical Center on Thursday
The Hospitals As Naloxone Distribution Sites Act, or the HANDS Act, would create a mechanism for hospitals to be reimbursed by the federal government for purchasing and distributing naloxone to eligible patients upon discharge. The bill would also direct the Food and Drug Administration to strip back regulations on the distribution of naloxone.
Don Stader is an emergency room doctor who founded The Naloxone Project, which gives medical providers naloxone to distribute to at-risk patients at no cost. He said less than 2% of prescriptions given for naloxone are filled, and directly distributing the overdose antidote to at-risk patients is the most effective way to ensure any future overdoses are not fatal.
“We have a treatment system which is in its adolescence and is still bearing the brunt of mistakes and policy and regulation that we have carried forth for too long,” Stader said, “and what that results in at the bedside too often is that patients do not receive the care that they so sorely need, and that they so rightfully deserve.”
Stader treated Pettersen’s mother the same day he testified in front of Pettersen about reducing opioid abuse when she was a senator in the Colorado Legislature, a memory that he said gave his efforts an even stronger conviction. Pettersen said she’s proud of the legislative progress Colorado has made when it comes to supporting people with addiction.
“This is a hard area to work in when it’s so close, but I feel it’s incumbent upon me to be a voice for the people who are always left behind,” Pettersen said.
Pettersen said she is hopeful the HANDS Act will receive bipartisan support in Congress.
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