Fatal Heroin-Related Overdoses rose more than 40%

Fatal Heroin-Related Overdoses rose more than 40%

Fatal heroin-related overdoses across Ohio rose more than 40 percent in 2013, the state Department of Health reported in its latest official tally. The toll was even worse in the Toledo area, where such deaths more than doubled in 2013, and nearly doubled again last year.

Recent regional statistics for this year, as well as national trends, suggest that the epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction might have hit a plateau. Even so, with nearly three people a day in Ohio — and three a week in the Toledo area — continuing to die from heroin-related overdoses, the state must redouble its efforts to prevent new cases of addiction and to treat those who are struggling with the disease.

A package of bills sponsored by state Rep. Robert Sprague (R., Findlay) would do both, and ought to move quickly to Gov. John Kasich’s desk. Two bills would directly save lives by reducing overdoses and helping overdose victims get timely medical care.

A “Good Samaritan” bill would generally shield from arrest and prosecution minor drug users who are seeking help, by calling 911 or contacting a police officer, for companions who overdosed. Kentucky has passed a similar measure.

Overdose victims can die without quick medical attention. A Good Samaritan law is needed to ensure that drug users, who may otherwise fear prosecution, call for help when a friend overdoses.

The bill also generally would provide immunity for the person who overdosed, but it does not do so for drug users who are on probation or parole. Still, it permits courts to order treatment or mitigate penalties in these cases.

Unhappily, a similar bill died in the General Assembly last session; some lawmakers argued that it would encourage drug abuse and protect drug dealers. Such sentiments are shortsighted and punitive, especially in a matter of life or death. But this year’s bill, as a compromise, would exclude anyone carrying more than a gram of heroin — the equivalent of roughly 10 doses.

A related life-saving bill would require health insurance companies to pay for special abuse-deterrent prescription pain pills if a doctor prescribes them, even if they cost more than a generic version. Without making pain pills such as OxyContin crush-resistant, they can easily be abused through tampering.

By crushing the pills and snorting the powder, or injecting it with a solution, users can bypass time-release mechanisms and get a faster, more potent, and more dangerous high. Abuse-deterrent pills reduce the potential for abuse and also make the product less attractive for illicit street sales.

Last year, Representative Sprague became the legislature’s leading light on fighting heroin and opioid abuse. During this session, he is picking up where he left off.

With the state still in the grip of a lethal epidemic of addiction, the rest of the General Assembly should follow his lead. Lawmakers can start by passing these life-saving bills without undue delay.

Source: The Blade