Thursday, March 20, 2014

States look to 'Good Samaritan' laws to fight opioid overdoses

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed “Good Samaritan” laws that grant limited immunity to drug users who seek help for someone who has overdosed, according to the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), a nonpartisan research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C, reported Stateline. The same number have expanded access to the medication naloxone (also known by its brand name Narcan), which can quickly reverse the effects of opioid overdoses and restore breathing to a stricken person.
Similar measures are under consideration in at least six other states (Maine, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia).
In some states, such as Oklahoma and North Carolina, the measures are passing with the support of conservative Republican lawmakers allied with police and the families of overdose victims.
They also carry the endorsement of the American Medical Association, the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the American Public Health Association.
Not everyone is on board, however. Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, is opposing a naloxone access bill that is under consideration in his state’s legislature, arguing that the availability of an antidote would only encourage more drug use. And last year, LePage vetoed a Good Samaritan bill.
States also are pursuing other strategies to combat the abuse of painkillers and heroin. In October, the Trust for America’s Health listed 10 measures that states could take to combat prescription drug abuse. Good Samaritan laws and expanding access to naloxone were two of the measures TFAH listed. Other provisions include the mandatory use of prescription drug monitoring programs and the requirement that doctors examine patients before prescribing medications.
Only two states, New Mexico and Vermont (where Gov. Peter Shumlin last month devoted his entire State of the State address to the “crisis” of illegal opiate use in his state), have adopted all 10 of the TFAH recommendations.
In an interview with Stateline, Robin Cardiges said she believes her son Stephen might have been saved if Georgia had had a naloxone law on the books two years ago. She’s even surer that with a Good Samaritan law, Stephen’s companions might have been willing to take him to a hospital for treatment. Instead he died, and they were charged with drug possession.
“I think that no one among us hasn’t or won’t make a deeply regrettable choice,” she said. “It shouldn’t cost you your life.”
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