Cutting Drug Overdose Toll
At a higher rate than residents of any other state, West Virginians kill themselves with drug overdoses. And the crisis is growing worse: During the past decade, the number of overdose deaths increased six-fold.
Yet bills that might have saved the lives of some overdose victims died during the state Legislature’s 60-day session.
Don’t put too much blame on lawmakers. They were very busy in January and February, in part because of the need to react decisively to the chemical spill that affected drinking water for about 300,000 people. Because of that and other factors, many worthwhile bills languished during the regular session.
Again, however, two of them might have saved lives.
One was a so-called “Good Samaritan” bill that would have exempted from prosecution people who contact the authorities to get help for others who have overdosed on drugs.
Beyond any doubt, some overdose victims could be saved if they received prompt medical treatment. But because they are involved in crimes, they and those with them too often do not seek help, or wait too long to call for it.
By alleviating fears of prosecution, the Good Samaritan bill could have saved lives – but it was watered down to the point of near-uselessness. Before it finally was allowed to die, the measure had been amended to cover only victims of alcohol poisoning.
Another measure also would have saved lives, had it passed. It would have allowed emergency responders to use a drug called naloxone to treat victims of heroin and pain-pill overdoses. Only licensed paramedics can administer naloxone under current law.
Some critics of the Good Samaritan bill worry it would amount to giving drug abusers free passes to avoid prosecution. Any attempt to enact such a measure in the future should include more safeguards against that than were in the bill this winter.
Neither bill should be shelved and forgotten. In all likelihood, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will call the Legislature into a special session later this spring or during the summer. The two drug-related bills should be included.
The bottom line on the “war on drugs” ought to be saving lives, after all.