An alarming report from the Center for Disease Control highlights why a new law in North Carolina could not have been passed at a more critical time. According to the CDC, rates of women aged 45 to 64 dying of overdoses increased five-fold over the past decade, the vast majority of them on prescription pain medication. The rough total of mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters lost was 15,300 in 2010. The number of male deaths also more than tripled during this time period, totaling 23,000 in 2010. The CDC assessed that about 70 percent of the fatalities were unintentional and considered accidental.
In light of these figures, the North Carolina 911 Good Samaritan/Naloxone Access Law, which went into effect this April, was perhaps overdue. The Good Samaritan Law now permits bystanders at the scene of an overdose to call emergency services with limited immunity from criminal charges, including from illegal drug possession or paraphernalia. Additionally, the Naloxone Access Law offers legal liability for anyone to administer Naloxone (commonly known as Narcan) to someone who is exhibiting symptoms of an overdose. It is a safe and effective method to revive a victim prior to the arrival of paramedics or other medical intervention. Organizations such as Full Circle Recovery Center, LLC in Franklin, Project Lazarus and the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition can now distribute kits with necessary information and supplies about proper use of the antidote.
In North Carolina, approximately 1,100 people pass away annually from drug overdoses. More troubling still are studies suggesting that in over half of these fatal overdoses, the individual is not alone. Others frequently do not summon help because they fear police involvement when illegal drugs played a role. It is a tragedy to lose someone to an overdose, but even more so when it is easily preventable, and when a friend must make a split second decision about whether to risk their friend’s survival at the cost of his or her own livelihood. Without the 911 Good Samaritan/ Naloxone Access Law, one foolish choice could create a devastating domino effect resulting in lifelong hardships for some and loss of lives for others.
Some may argue that laws such as these provide carte blanche for addicts to continue engaging in destructive behaviors, and that they should accept the risk of death or arrest each time they use. However, if a case for personal responsibility has a place in discussions about drug abuse, it should not be after someone has fallen into respiratory failure and is minutes away from flat lining. It is also important to consider that circumstances leading to an overdose vary greatly. For instance, the CDC believes that the spike in overdose deaths is attributable in part to addictions that develop from legally prescribed opiates and benzodiazepines for chronic pain or work-related accidents. Most of us have also experimented with some risky behaviors as teenagers and young adults, when impulse controls and decision- making skills are still developing.
Whether substance abuse and dependency is inadvertent, a coping mechanism for mental illness and emotional distress, or the result of youthful indiscretion should not dictate whether a person deserves to live. Furthermore, given the opportunity to live long enough to have contact with health professionals, it is more likely that an individual will receive information about treatment options leading them into recovery. In lieu of instituting more punishments for drug abuse, the 911 Good Samaritan/Naloxone Access Law is a beneficial opportunity for North Carolina to change harmful overdose trends and protect the well-being of our citizens. If your family has been affected by opiate addiction and you would like more information about how to protect your loved one from an overdose, please contact Full Circle Recovery Center, LLC at (828)475-1920 for more information.
Stephanie Almeida, CSAC, CSAPC-I
Full Circle Recovery Center & Prevention Rocks, Inc.