A California Senator and emergency room physician today joined a widow whose husband died of a heroin overdose to urge Governor Gray Davis to support the nation's first drug overdose prevention bill. The bill has already passed the California State Legislature with unanimous bipartisan support, and now awaits the Governor's signature to turn the bill into law.
"Overdose rates keep escalating, with 1,400 Californians dying every year," says Senator Martha Escutia, a Democrat from Norwalk who authored the bill. "Many, if not most, of these deaths are preventable. This problem cries out for action. The entire State Legislature agreed and supported my bill; now, it's up to the Governor."
The Overdose Prevention, Recognition and Response Act (Senate Bill 1134) would:
- Provide local health and criminal justice organizations with resources to implement overdose-prevention programs. These include education for drug users in jail or treatment facilities about how they can prevent an overdose; and how to recognize and respond to an overdose by using artificial respiration to breathe for the victim until medical help arrives.
- Allow counties to train emergency medical response teams to administer naloxone, an antidote to heroin and prescription opiate overdose. This includes training for volunteer ambulance and fire teams, who often respond to emergencies in rural areas where paramedics are not available.
- Create a small program within state government to coordinate data collection, reporting and public education grants.
All of the above are recommended by the World Health Organization, based on their study of overdose outbreaks around the world.
"If this law was around two years ago my husband might be alive today," said Heidi Moore, whose husband, Brad, died of a heroin overdose in 1999. Mr. Moore, who has three young children, was a businessman who had stayed free of illegal drugs for eight months, when he suffered a relapsed. "He had a drug problem, but he certainly didn't want to die," his wife said. "I wish he had known more about how to prevent an overdose; I wish the people who witnessed his OD would have known how to take care of him."
According to Center for Disease Control statistics, in 1998, (the last year for which data is available), an approximately equal number of men, ages 20-54, died of drug overdose as died in auto accidents in the Counties of Los Angeles
, San Diego
and Santa Cruz
. Just as many men in San Francisco
died of overdose as died of car accidents and gunshot wounds combined.
"Overdose can be prevented," said Glenn Backes, Health Policy Director for the Lindesmith Center - Drug Policy Foundation, a leading drug policy reform organization. "Thanks to Senators Escutia, Oller and others, California now has a plan to deal with this growing problem."
"I know people who lived this kind of nightmare, survived it, and lived good lives to raise fine children" said Republican State Senator Rico Oller, who represents 13 Northeastern California counties. "This bill will create opportunities for people to change their lives for the better."
Karl Sporer, an emergency room physician at San Francisco General Hospital, and the author of several papers on overdose treatment and prevention said: "The plan put together by Senator Escutia and her colleagues will likely save hundreds of lives every year, and may save us some money on ER costs, as well."
Heidi Moore, speaking on behalf of families who have lost loved ones said: "What I would tell the Governor is 'don't let more kids end up orphaned like mine."