CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State senators took steps Friday to try to curb West Virginia's drug overdose death rate.
By a 32-0 vote, the Senate approved legislation (SB336) that will allow police, firefighters and other emergency personnel to administer naloxone, a drug that counters the effects of pain-pill overdoses and saves lives.
"This bill would allow first responders to administer this lifesaving [drug] instead of having to transport these folks all the way to the hospital," said Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone. "It's a great tool in our toolbox in order to cut down on the scourge of unintentional opioid [hydrocodone and oxycodone] overdoses."
West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, according to a report released last October.
The number of overdose deaths in West Virginia -- mostly for prescription pills -- increased sixfold from 1999 to 2010, according to the report by the Trust for America's Health. West Virginians purchased more opioid pain relievers per capita than residents of all but five states.
In West Virginia, the number of drug overdose deaths -- nearly 29 for every 100,000 residents -- even exceeded the number of people killed by auto accidents, the study found.
The report docked West Virginia for not having a law that allowed police officers and firefighters to administer naloxone -- brand name Narcan -- to stop drug overdose fatalities. In November, a Kanawha County Commission substance-abuse task force recommended that state lawmakers pass a bill that would put the "rescue drug" in the hands of first responders.