PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A state lawmaker hopes the South Dakota Department of Health can offer some easy to use advice for employers who will now get to keep a previously restricted medicine on hand in case of an opioid overdose.

Republican Rep. Brian Mulder won approval from the Legislature for HB-1162 that Governor Kristi Noem signed into law on March 8. It allows employers to obtain opioid antagonists such as Naloxone — or Narcan, as it’s called commercially — and make the medicine available on their premises.

Opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine can slow or stop a person’s breathing. An antagonist such as Naloxone can rapidly restore breathing in the case of an overdose, but doesn’t affect someone who hasn’t taken an opioid, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The new South Dakota law includes an important safeguard: Employers are protected from liability for any death, injury, or damage that arises out of administering or not administering an opioid antagonist in instances of ordinary negligence.

Another of the new law’s provisions says the state Department of Health will develop training and instruction and make the information available on the department’s website for employers to use. The department’s contracted trainer, Dr. Jim Walery of Brookings, has “started the conversation” with department staff, according to a SDDOH spokesperson, who said the current training will be re-evaluated for public consumption.

The Department of Health and the state Department of Social Services already have a lengthy slide presentation used for training first responders and law enforcement. Something much shorter and simpler would be better for employers to use, Rep. Mulder said, such as the two-pager for Narcan nasal spray.

“What we wanted was a simple step by step process, of identifying an overdose, the how to administer the nasal spray, and call 911,” Mulder said.

Emily Kiel, the Health Department’s director for healthcare access, said that, on average since 2017, the department had distributed approximately 1,400 boxes of Naloxone per year to law enforcement, emergency medical services, schools, correctional facilities, and court systems with a law enforcement presence.

“We continue to work cooperatively and very closely with the Department of Social Services,” Kiel said. “They fund the cost of the Nalaxone kits that we distribute.” A brand-name Narcan two-pack of nasal spray can run upward of $120 at local pharmacies, while generic two-packs can be 50% to 60% less.

The Legislature in 2015 passed the state’s first laws regarding opioid antagonists. The department formally established an opioid abuse advisory committee in November 2016. In 2017, the Legislature required full participation in the state’s prescription drug monitoring program. In 2019, lawmakers brought schools into the opioid-antagonist program.

A report to the committee in 2016 said a total of 82 people had died from opioids in South Dakota from 2004 through 2011. Those numbers were later revised substantially upward. By 2020 and 2021, opioid deaths each year reached a record 43; provisional numbers for 2022 showed 35.

At this point, according to Mulder, there is no coordinated effort through any of the various regional health or statewide business groups to promote the ability to use Narcan. “But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be one,” he said. “I would hope maybe DOH could help with that as well.”

KELOLAND News inquired Tuesday morning whether the governor might help lead the way by directing that Naloxone be available in state government buildings throughout South Dakota. We’ll let you know when we know more.