Heroin: America's Silent Killer — A Follow Up
In last month's newsletter, I wrote about the heroin epidemic that is now among the leading causes of death in our country, killing more people than car crashes. Throughout the process of researching and writing on this topic, I noticed myself becoming increasingly alarmed and concerned. The more I read, the more taken aback I was with how little I actually knew. I began asking myself questions: "When did this problem get so bad?" "Why aren't more people talking about it?" "What resources are out there for people?" And most important: "What can we do to help?"
After wrestling with these questions for some time, I began sharing my concerns at length with family, friends and colleagues. What I came to realize was, like me, most people I spoke with knew very little. During these conversations, I tried my best to raise awareness and educate others on this important issue; however, I kept thinking to myself, "There must be more we can do."
With this thought in the forefront of my mind, I started reaching out to people in different organizations whose work focused on the heroin epidemic, specifically in Georgia. I spoke with clinicians, nurses, advocates and lobbyists who were devoted to the same cause. Each person provided me with valuable insight, resources and perspectives on the issue. Overtime, I realized they all shared one thing in common — the loss of a family member or loved one to heroin addiction. Each person, in one way or another, attributed this experience to his or her investment and devotion to the cause today. They all worked around the clock to help prevent their painful experience from happening to others.
I want to devote the rest of this blog to providing the valuable and potentially life-saving information I gathered from the devoted and caring individuals I spoke with over the past month. Some of the information you will read below can literally mean the difference between life and death for a person who is struggling with heroin addiction. After reading the information below, I want you to ask yourself two important questions: 1. What can I do to help? 2. How can I pass this information onto others?
Naloxone is a drug used to reverse the effects of opioids and heroin in overdose. The drug works by blocking the potentially fatal effects of drugs like heroin, morphine and oxycodone on the central nervous system and the respiratory system and quickly restores breathing to normal levels during overdose. The drug carries no potential for abuse and has zero effect if there are no opiates in the user's body.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, naloxone reversed more than 10,000 overdoses between 1996 and 2010. That is 10,000 lives saved by naloxone! Even better, in April 2014, Georgia passed the "9-1-1 Medical Amnesty Law" in order to expand access to naloxone and other emergency treatments.
Prior to this law, access to the drug and emergency treatment often was limited by laws that made it difficult for individuals likely to be in a position to reverse an overdose to access naloxone. Laws also discouraged overdose witnesses from calling for help for fear of getting in trouble or arrested. Even worse, the first responders dispatched to overdose calls often did not carry naloxone and were not trained on how to administer the drug. In an attempt to reverse the increase in preventable overdose deaths, in 2014 the state of Georgia passed the "9-1-1 Medical Amnesty Law," which thus far has made an incredible impact.
What you need to know about the "Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law"
- The law provides limited immunity from arrest, charges and prosecution drug possession and paraphernalia for individuals who experience a drug overdose and are in need of medical care. This immunity also applies to those who seek medical care for a person experiencing an overdose.
- The law provides limited immunity from certain underage drinking offenses for minors who seek help in the event of an overdose.
- The law expands access to naloxone by authorizing trained first responders, including law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS personnel, to administer the medication.
- The law establishes limited civil and criminal immunity for medical professionals who prescribe naloxone and other laypeople who administer it to a person suffering from an opioid/heroin overdose.
- Pharmacists are permitted to fill naloxone prescriptions, and any person acting with reasonable care and in good faith is permitted to administer naloxone to a person believed to be experiencing an opioid overdose. All of these individuals are immune from civil or criminal liability or professional licensing sanction as long as they act in accordance with the law.
Don’t Run, Call 9-1-1!
This is a lot of information to digest. But what I really want you to remember is this: never hesitate to call 9-1-1 for help due to a fear of getting into trouble with the police. Under the new law, if you or someone you know is in need of medical help due to drugs/alcohol, you can call 9-1-1 and are no longer at risk for arrest, charges, or prosecution for drug possession or underage drinking. So please, in the future, don’t run, call 9-1-1!
Useful Resources to Learn More:
To get help or learn more about HAMSA (Helping Atlantans Manage Substance Abuse) please email HAMSA@jfcs-atlanta.org or call 770.677.9318.
Photo credit: Wolfman-K