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NOPE Task Force – Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education

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FL HB61 Overdose Death Prevention Act – “Richie’s Law” Will Save Lives

Overdose Death Prevention Act – “Richie’s Law” Will Save Lives

We support the passage of this bill in Florida to require specific rules be followed by an emergency care practitioner whose patient suffers a non-fatal unintentional overdose. That could prevent patients from suffering or dying from overdoses in the future.

By Karen Perry

Since our inception a decade ago, NOPE Task Force has tackled many challenging issues related to reducing drug abuse across the nation -- from supporting efforts to close down “pills mills” to serving more than 500,000 students and their families with powerful anti-drug presentations.

Now, our newest issue is helping people who have suffered non-fatal drug overdoses.

Those who suffer non-fatal overdoses face serious and imminent health threats, and unless they are helped, statistics show that they are likely to have other overdoses and eventually face the possibility of dying from a fatal overdose.

We are supporting the “Overdose Prevention Act” in Florida -- a bill requiring specific rules be followed by an emergency care practitioner whose patient suffers a non-fatal unintentional overdose. These rules or procedures include proper medical stabilization and substance abuse Screening Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT).

Our hope is to see this bill pass in the Sunshine State, and have it adopted across the nation.

Here are the details:

-- Prior to a patient’s discharge, the attending physician shall make all reasonable efforts to contact the patient’s primary care physician and any practitioner who prescribed a controlled substance within the past 12 months to the patient, and inform that the patient has suffered a non-fatal overdose and may require substance use treatment.

-- Additionally, the attending physician would notify the patient’s emergency contact or next of kin of the event and provide materials on addiction treatment, treatment facilities and practitioners, as well as information on local involuntary treatment laws.

This is an issue very personal to me.

On June 28, 2003, my son and college student, Richard Perry, died from an accidental drug overdose in Seminole County, Florida. Exactly one month prior to his death, Rich had overdosed on a combination of prescribed medications and heroin, and was admitted into a hospital emergency room where he was given three vials of Narcon. He was revived and released.

None of our family members nor any of Rich's medical doctors were made aware of his overdose incident that occurred on May 28, 2003. At the time of this first incident, all of Rich’s finances were being handled by my husband and I, including his health insurance and all medical doctor bills.

Months before his death, Rich was being treated for depression and anxiety and was taking the prescribed medications, Klonopin, Wellbutrin, and Ritalin. He was seeing a medical doctor and a psychologist. He also had been in treatment for addiction and was attending a follow-up program.

Again, none of his medical doctors were notified that he had harmed himself by overdosing and that his case was in need of review. Rich was released to the street within a few hours of the 911 call, with instructions: “Stop using drugs” and, “return to the ER if needed.”

Rich’s father and I are convinced that had we been notified of his overdose and had Rich been fully detoxed and given the opportunity for treatment when he was admitted to the emergency room, he would be alive today or would have, at the very least, stood a fighting chance to recover from drugs and lead a good life.

Unfortunately, Richie was not alone in his circumstances. Look at these national and local numbers:

-- In 2012, there were 33,175 unintentional drug overdose deaths in the United States. (Source: Center for Disease Control)

-- 2.5 million emergency department visits are attributed to drug misuse or overdose every year. (Source: Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), 2011 National ED Estimates)

-- 26% of the people who died from a drug overdose had experienced a prior drug overdose with a hospital visit. (Source: Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Overdose Suppression Project 2013)

-- 82% of the descendants had a known substance abuse history prior to their fatal overdose. (Source: Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Overdose Suppression Project 2013)

-- 51% of the decedents were under the care of a physician at the time of their fatal overdose. (Source: Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Overdose Suppression Project 2013)

Let me be clear: the hospital emergency room is an important intervention point.

The best hope of survival for a person who is substance abuse impaired is intervention. Denial and distorted thinking impedes the patient’s ability to make a rational decision. Therefore, responsibility must be placed on the attending physician in the hospital to insure that proper post overdose care is delivered.

When discussing the issue of notification, HIPAA is a perceived communication issue. The fact is: the HIPAA law currently indicates that emergency room physicians may notify next of kin if they feel it was important or necessary for survival of the patient. Here’s the summary of the law’s privacy rule:

My husband and I loved our son and made every known effort to help him. The system failed us and failed Rich. We do not wish for other parents or family members to have to live through the devastation of such a tremendous loss, especially when efforts could be made to save a life.

Work with us in pushing for the “Overdose Prevention Act.” Contact NOPE today to find out what you can do. Call us at 561-478-1055 or send us a note here:

Karen Perry is the executive director of NOPE Task Force.

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