Archive for the ‘Project Lazarus’ Category

The New Good Samaritan Law: Go ahead…Call 911

New Good Samaritan Law for North Carolina

New Good Samaritan Law for North Carolina

In an effort to reduce drug overdose deaths, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory approved a law earlier this month that limits legal consequences for people who call 911 to summon help for a friend who has overdosed. In the past, drug users have been reluctant to summon medical assistance for an overdosed companion, fearing police may arrive, and charge them with possession of drugs and/or paraphernalia. As a result, people die from overdoses due to a lack of timely medical care. In its place, the overdosed person’s companions may try an ineffective home remedy for overdose.

The new law doesn’t give a pass for all drug possession. It says that a person acting in good faith to seek medical assistance for an individual suffering a drug overdose will not be prosecuted for possession of less than one gram of cocaine or one gram of heroin. I don’t know if that means possession of larger amounts may still be prosecuted, but I suspect so. There is no mention of prescription drug possession specifically in the law, but I hope prescription opioids would be treated the same as heroin.

This new bill, called the Good Samaritan Bill, also says that if an underage drinker summons medical help for another person, the underage drinker will not be prosecuted by law enforcement, including campus police. The law says the underage drinker must use his own name when contacting authorities, reasonably believe he was the first to call for help, and must remain with the person needing medical help until it arrives to be covered by this law.

The bill has provisions for doctors to be able to prescribe an opioid antagonist such as naloxone to any person at risk of having an opioid-related overdose. Doctors can also prescribe this medication to the friend or family member of a person at risk for an overdose, even if that person is not a patient of the doctor. Also, a private citizen who possesses an overdose kit can administer it to another person who has had an overdose, so long as they use reasonable care. This law says the private citizen is immune to civil or criminal liability.

This is a great new law, and hopefully it will reduce witnessed overdose deaths. But the law won’t help unless addicts and their companions are aware of this law. Spread the word!

Information from the ASAM Conference: the CDC

At the recent ASAM conference, Dr. Ileana Arias, Deputy Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke at a plenary session, explaining the public health impact of our epidemic of prescription drug abuse and addiction. She did a great job explaining how bad the problem of opioid addiction has become in the U.S. She also had some great slides. The above slide shows how by 2008, poisonings overtook motor vehicle accidents as the number one cause of death in the U.S. Overwhelmingly, the poisonings were drugs, and the vast majority of these drug overdose deaths involved opioids. Dr. Arias explained the ice berg phenomenon, where for each person who dies from opioid overdose death, an estimated 118 are estimated to meet the diagnosis for opioid abuse and dependency. She presented information showing that the amount of prescription opioids sold quadrupled between 1999 and 2010.

Dr. Arias spoke at our conference to encourage us and to let us know the CDC was committed to help solve our nation’s prescription opioid addiction problem.

She outlined some of the measures the CDC is taking to help prevent opioid addiction and overdose deaths.  She explained the new lock-in programs now being used by some insurance companies, where the patient can have only one doctor and one pharmacy to prescribe and fill medications. The CDC is advocating for all states to have prescription monitoring programs, and for those state programs to be linked, so that a doctor can access medications filled in other states.

Dr. Arias mentioned the progress being made in Florida, where pill mills are being shut down. Unfortunately, some pill mills have moved to other states like Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, Ohio, and – my favorote state to criticize – Tennessee.

She also spoke of the success of medication take-back days, where people drop off old medication for appropriate disposal so that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, and she described many other actions the CDC has started.

This was all great information, familiar to those of us treating opioid addiction over the past five to ten years. I’m grateful the CDC has joined the effort to quelch this problem. Their resources and experience can help a great deal. I just wish all doctors in the country could hear her message.

The addiction medicine doctors had a chance to make comments and further suggestions to the CDC through Dr. Arias, and I was pleased to see how carefully she listened.

One of the suggestions I liked the best addressed the expense of maintaining state prescriptoin monitoring programs. Apparently these can cost around a million dollars a year to administer. One doctor said why not have the pharmaceutical companies that make and sell controlled substances pay or help pay for the monitoring programs? These companies are the main entities that have benefitted from the sales and diversion of their products; why not ask them to bear at least some of the cost for detecting the problems they cause? Genius, though it would be hard to mandate the pharmaceutical companies to do this.

One doctor suggested that law enforcement personnel be educated about the types of treatment available to opioid addicts, so they can stop being barriers toward effective treatments, namely medication-assisted treatments using buprenorphine and methadone.

Another doctor suggested the CDC promote the naloxone programs that provide kits to reverse fatal opioid overdoses. Why not help fund these projects and/or help create more? The Harm Reduction Coalition estimates there are around 155 naloxone programs in the U.S. Some are government-funded and some are privately funded, but around 10,000 fatal opioid overdoses have been reversed. Like Project Lazarus in North Carolina, many of these programs started at a grass roots level because citizens got involved.

Another doctor made the extremely common sense suggestion that the best way to allow more patients into suboxone treatment would be to allow doctors to treat more than one hundred patients at a time. At present, suboxone doctors are allowed to have no more than thirty patients on buprenorphine in their first year prescribing, and no more than one hundred after the first year. This would cost next to nothing for the government to implement, and expand treament dramatically.

One of our past ASAM presidents endorsed mandatory physician education as a requirement for maintaining medical license.

One person compared the prescription opioid addiction to HIV infection in past years, and commended the CDC on its past efforts to reduce the stigma associated with having HIV. This person asked the CDC to make public service announcements to help reduce the stigma of addiction, and encourge people to get treatment.

Another doctor asked the CDC to produce public service announcements telling people to lock up their medications, to prevent medication diversion to a teen or other person for whom it was not prescribed. This doctor also said that patients need to know that not all pain conditions require prescription opioids. He recommended telling the general public the true risks of opioid addiction, which have been downplayed. In the past, pain medicine experts underestimated the incidence of addiction in patients prescribe opioids for chronic pain for more than three months.

The CDC representative, Dr. Arias, confirmed that the CDC already has plans to make PSAs about pain pills and pain pill addiction, much like their present (and very successful) anti-smoking television PSAs.

All great information, and now let’s get the word out to all physicians, and the public too.