Pubdate: Sat, 29 Dec 2012
Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
Copyright: 2012 The News and Observer Publishing Company
Author: Allison Glasser
Note: Allison Glasser is candidate for a master's of public health at
UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health.


Seven years ago, Durham resident Chad Sanders lost his sister, Shelly,
to drug overdose. Shelly had been using drugs with a friend in her
dorm room when she became unresponsive. Her friend, recently released
from jail on parole, did not call 911 for fear that he could be
arrested for drug possession.

Shelly didn't make it through the night.

Unfortunately, Shelly's story is far too common. Drug overdose
deaths have surpassed automobile deaths as the leading cause of
accidental death in the United States. In North Carolina, antiquated
laws and practices lead to over 1,000 preventable overdose deaths each
year. It's time we do something about it.

A person who is experiencing a drug overdose has one to three hours
before the overdose proves fatal. An adequate amount of time exists
for friends or family to call 911 to get this person help.

Additionally, administering naloxone, a non-abusable medicine used to
reverse overdose, is safe and effective even when administered by
people without medical training.

North Carolina laws do not support these life-saving practices.
Overdose bystanders who call 911 can be arrested on suspicion of drug
possession or other drug-related crimes. Not surprisingly, fear of the
police is the No. 1 reason cited for failing to call 911 during an

No one should be arrested for attempting to save a friend's

Distribution of naloxone is legal in North Carolina with a
prescription. However, physicians co-prescribing the antidote with
opioid pain relievers to patients may be wary for fear that it will be
used on someone other than the person they have examined, violating a
state law that prohibits "third-party prescriptions."  Drug users
should be able to be prescribed naloxone to protect themselves and
their loved ones.

So, what can we do? We can advocate 911 Good Samaritan laws that not
only protect the individual calling 911 from criminal liability, but
also the person experiencing the overdose. The focus in the case of an
overdose should not be to punish people, but to keep them safe and
bring them back to health.

We can also push for a law that allows medical professionals to
prescribe naloxone to any person.

Lastly, we need to endorse a law that provides immunity to individuals
who possess, distribute or administer naloxone. Other states have
enacted such laws over the past two years, most recently Florida,
where strong bipartisan support was expressed.

Washington was one of the first states to enact a 911 Good Samaritan
law in 2010. One year later, 88 percent of opiate users in the state
reported they would be more likely to call 911 during future overdoses
as a result of awareness of the new legislation.

Several states have amended their laws to educate physicians and lay
people on the use of naloxone and to protect physicians who prescribe
the drug, so that it does not expose physicians to a greater risk of
medical liability.

Shelly's brother Chad supports expanding access to naloxone,
relating it to a similar, but over-the-counter drug: "If someone is
allergic to bee stings, they have easy access to an EpiPen, but if
people overdose, the medicine is not (readily) available - because
of stigma - that's not a good excuse."

Passing a 911 Good Samaritan law and increasing access to naloxone are
not only effective, they require no additional funding. Detective Gary
Martin from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office in Florida, a
supporter of these laws, reported that they don't cost anything.
"They may even save money because they mean incarcerating fewer
people. Every life saved is one less autopsy, one less law enforcement
investigation that the state has to pay for."

Most members in the community have moved past the "war on drugs"
mentality of the 1980s that engendered stigma and judgment to more of
a public health perspective. Yet policies remain in place that do not
work and continue to harm people.

As Chad can attest, anyone's life can be affected by drug use: "It
is likely that someone in your family or at least someone you know is
struggling with the disease of addiction."  It is up to all of us to
advocate better policies that will keep people alive to get help.

Allison Glasser is candidate for a master's of public health at
UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health.
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