Pubdate: Thu, 25 Dec 2014
Source: Charleston Gazette (WV)
Copyright: 2014 Charleston Gazette
Author: Eric Eyre


A national organization that has raised $8 million over two years to 
fight substance abuse is urging West Virginia legislators to pass two 
laws designed to reduce drug overdose deaths.

Shatterproof, a nonprofit headquartered in Connecticut, supports a 
"Good Samaritan" law that would give immunity to people who call 911 
to report a drug overdose. Another measure would expand the 
availability of a life-saving medicine called naloxone, which 
reverses the effects or heroin and prescription painkillers.

West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the United States.

"At the end of the day, both of these laws do the same thing: They're 
saving the lives of someone who's overdosing," said Shatterproof CEO 
Gary Mendell, a former hotel developer whose son battled drug 
addiction and committed suicide in 2011, at the age of 25.

State lawmakers have wrestled with similar bills in recent years. 
Last year, the West Virginia Senate passed Good Samaritan and 
naloxone bills, but both pieces of legislation got bogged down in the 
House of Delegates Judiciary Committee. With Republicans set to 
control the Senate and the House during the upcoming session, GOP 
legislative leaders have said they will give both bills a fresh look.

Shatterproof has targeted West Virginia and three other states. 
Mendell plans to come to Charleston and speak to lawmakers after the 
bills are introduced.

The Kanawha County Commission's Substance Abuse Task Force also is 
supporting the Good Samaritan and naloxone legislative proposals.

About 600 West Virginians die each year from drug overdoses. While 
overdose deaths caused by prescription painkillers have declined 
slightly in recent years, heroin overdoses have tripled in West Virginia.

In Kanawha County, paramedics respond to two or three drug overdose 
calls a day.

"These are preventable deaths," Mendell said.

People who witness others who overdose are often reluctant to call 
911 because they fear they'll be arrested, Mendell said. Good 
Samaritan laws encourage witnesses to call for emergency help by 
protecting them from arrest or prosecution for drug use or drug 
possession, he said. Eighteen states have Good Samaritan laws.

"You've got someone who overdosed who looks like they stopped 
breathing, and the Good Samaritan law says the person who stops 
breathing and the person who makes the 911 call are immune from being 
arrested," said Mendell, who has contributed $5 million to 
Shatterproof and raised another $3 million.

Mendell's group also wants to expand the use of naloxone - known 
under its brand name, Narcan - across West Virginia. The medicine has 
saved the lives of more than 10,000 people who have overdosed on 
heroin and prescription pain pills in the United States, Mendell said.

Now, only paramedics, doctors and other licensed medical professions 
can legally administer naloxone in West Virginia. Shatterproof wants 
to put the medicine in the hands of police and firefighters - and 
people who have a family member addicted to heroin or pain pills.

Twenty-five states have laws that expand the use of naloxone.

Doctors who prescribe the medicine and pharmacists who dispense it 
would be immune from criminal charges and civil lawsuits, under 
Shatterproof's proposed legislation. Family members and others who 
administer naloxone also would be immune from prosecution.

Mendell said states such as Maryland have a doctor's "standing order" 
prescription that allows pharmacies to sell naloxone to anyone who requests it.

The medicine can be injected using a needle or "epi-pen," or sprayed 
up a drug overdose victim's nose. Naloxone isn't addictive and does 
not encourage people to abuse heroin or pain medications even more, 
according to multiple research studies.

"If you have a 20-year-old son who's addicted to heroin, not only 
could the doctor prescribe it to the 20-year-old, but also to his 
parents or a friend," Mendell said. "Everyone should be able to 
administer it. There's no downside. You're saving lives."
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