Pubdate: Mon, 24 Mar 2014
Source: Times, The (Gainesville, GA)
Copyright: 2014 Gainesville Times
Author: Emma Witman
Bookmark: (Heroin Overdose)


Public health advocates say addressing the fear of legal 
repercussions after dialing 911 will save overdose victims in a 
medical crisis after Georgia's "medical amnesty" bill passed the 
legislature Tuesday.

"There was a lot of emotion in this bill because there's a lot of 
people who have been and are going to be affected by this situation," 
said Jeremy Sharp, a student at the University of North Georgia and 
founder of UNG's chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Sharp said it was hard work to keep the bill alive as proposed 
changes from unrelated bills threatened to derail the legislation.

"There was a lot of politics," Sharp said. "Amendments were added, 
then taken off."

Advocates stuck around and kept their foot in the door as the 
last-minute lobbying ensued, he said.

"The parents were running around and lobbied the heck out of 
legislators to make sure it stayed clean, keep it how we wanted it," 
he added. "My group from UNG got there at 9:30 a.m. and stayed until 
10 o'clock at night when they passed it."

Supporters of a bill that would have allowed Georgians access to a 
form of medical marijuana rich in a compound cited for medical 
purposes in limited studies - and low in THC, the chemical that 
causes the high - experienced similar politicking. The bill failed to 
garner a vote after it was combined with an autism insurance mandate bill.

"We wanted the bill to be about saving lives, simply," Sharp said. 
"It's a policy change and a way to save people's lives."

National statistics show fear of police is the most-cited reason for 
not seeking help in life-or-death overdose scenarios. Fewer than half 
of overdoses result in a call for help.

The medical amnesty bill was also merged with another overdose 
prevention measure passed in the Senate. That provision would make 
Naloxone, a prescription drug administered to counteract an opioid 
overdose, more available. Physicians, in good faith, could prescribe 
the drug for family, friends and addicts under the bill.

The bill now goes to the governor's office, and is an expansion of 
amnesty from its original form; Sharp's main concern with the 
legislation in previous versions was that it didn't give immunity to 
enough types of drug violations, including the prescription opioids 
that public health advocates cite as the most deadly.

"If it's a harder substance, and under 4 grams, that person is immune 
from prosecution; if the person who is suffering from the overdose 
calls 911 or the caller stays and cooperates, they are immune from 
prosecution," Sharp said.

The proposed law also covers people who are on parole and probation. 
And another key allowance was made to his surprise, Sharp said.

"Underage drinking was added," he said. "That was actually really 
good, we thought we might not be able to get that."

The bill had garnered widespread support, including from the "Think 
About It" campaign, sponsored by the Medical Association of Georgia Foundation.

The campaign seeks to reduce prescription drug abuse and accidental 
overdose deaths from prescription narcotics. From 2010 to 2012, there 
were 76 deaths in Hall County caused by accidental prescription drug 
overdoses, health advocates say, and the vast majority involved 
prescription pain drugs, and most are classified as accidental.

"Certainly I think the idea's a very good one," said Dr. Tennent 
Slack, when the bill was awaiting Senate approval. Slack gives 
presentations on opioid abuse for the Think About It campaign. "If it 
comes down to saving a life versus a criminal charge, I think saving 
a life is more important."

In Hall County, the dispensing of oxycodone increased by 666 percent 
from 2009 to 2011, Slack says in his presentation.

Sharp said the "next step" for the UNG organization is publicizing 
the change if enacted with a signature from Gov. Nathan Deal.

"The next step is just talking about Georgia overdose deaths. It's 
not about scare tactics, but getting the message out - empowering 
people with common sense," he said.
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