Shaheen, Hoeven Call on FAA to Ensure Life-Saving Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug is Included in Airline Emergency Medical Kits

October 30, 2019

(Washington, D.C.) – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) led a letter with U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to act swiftly in issuing regulations requiring that Emergency Medical Kits (EMKs) carried by passenger airlines include opioid overdose reversal drugs, also known as opioid antagonists, to treat drug overdoses. The agency recently agreed that there is a need to add opioid antagonists like naloxone to EMKs. Shaheen led the charge in 2018, calling on the agency to issue these regulations in response to the nation’s growing substance use disorder epidemic.

The Senators wrote, “Airline passengers deserve peace of mind that lifesaving help is available should a medical emergency occur in the sky. This is particularly true in the case of a drug overdose, when timely treatment can be the difference between life and death. As recent tragedies have shown, these incidents are occurring everywhere, including on airplanes. In these cases, flight attendants and volunteer medical professionals serve as first responders and rely on the supplies in FAA-regulated EMKs to assist passengers experiencing medical emergencies.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were nearly 68,000 overdose deaths across the United States last year. Access to naloxone, a life-saving opioid reversal drug, is critical in preventing overdose deaths, particularly on airplanes. Airline passengers are often hours away from emergency medical facilities and cannot seek other treatment until an emergency landing can be made.

The letter continues, “As the FAA continues its review, we urge the agency to take adequate and timely steps to issue regulations requiring the inclusion of opioid antagonists in EMKs. In the interim, we further request that the FAA issue additional guidance and recommended actions to air carriers to encourage the expeditious and voluntary inclusion of opioid antagonists in EMKs. This public health crisis has affected communities across the country and must not be overlooked.”

Senator Shaheen has spearheaded the fight against the substance use disorder epidemic in the Senate. Shaheen helped negotiate the bipartisan agreement in 2018 that outlined the two years of opioid response spending – totaling $6 billion to respond to the opioid crisis. This included the set-aside funding for states with the highest mortality rates, like New Hampshire. This critical additional funding, which the Senator helped broker, has been included by Congress over the last two fiscal years. As a result of her efforts, New Hampshire received a more than ten-fold increase in opioid treatment funding through the State Opioid Response (SOR) grant program. 

Shaheen recently unveiled sweeping new substance use disorder legislation, the Turn the Tide Act, to help tackle the substance use epidemic and provide resources for Granite Staters struggling with substance misuse. The Turn the Tide Act provides $63 billion in funding over ten years to deliver flexible treatment funding to providers, establish proven prevention programs and address the substantial workforce challenges in the treatment field. Included in the Turn the Tide Act is new authority for states to use SOR grant dollars to facilitate treatment and recovery support for any individual with a substance use disorder diagnosis, rather than only for individuals with a primary diagnosis of opioid use disorder.

The letter can be read in full here.