Changing Law from Barrier to Facilitator of Opioid Overdose Prevention
2012 Public Health Law Conference: Practical Approaches to Critical Challenges, Spring 2013
5 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2013 Last revised: 23 Jul 2013
Date Written: July 16, 2013
Evidence shows that overdose bystanders are willing and able to safely administer naloxone in an overdose situation. However, since bystanders often do not have the drug, they must call 911 to summon the first responders who do. Unfortunately, they often refrain from doing so because they fear arrest and prosecution — a fear that evidence suggests may be justified. When first responders are summoned, it is often too late: a review of medical examiner data in North Carolina showed that over half of accidental overdose victims died by the time paramedics arrived. These legal barriers are unintended consequences of attempts to address other problems. The public interest is, in general, served by regulatory control of prescription medications, which may include criminal sanctions to deter unauthorized distribution and use. However, laws directed towards that end have an extraordinarily severe side effect: thousands of preventable deaths every year. These laws can be modified to remove their negative effect while sustaining their original intent, and doing so presents a critical opportunity to save many lives at little or no cost.
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