New bill will curb deaths from drug overdose

by Heather Rushall

MCT Campus

The movie “Pulp Fiction” has countless memorable scenes, but one in particular stands out. Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) plants her face neatly in a mound of heroin, falls back in her seat with a nosebleed as her eyes roll back into her head and passes out. Vincent Vega (John Travolta) chooses to skip emergency services and instead drives her almost lifeless body to a friend’s house, where he slams a syringe of adrenaline into her chest to bring her out of the overdose.

This is just a scene from a movie, but these days it is an all too familiar event in the local, real-life drug scene. This drug problem is particularly serious in the San Diego area.

According to a report by the Prescription Drug Task Force, burglaries of pharmacies are on the rise and there has been an increase in drug deaths caused by prescription medication throughout the past five years. Worst of all, the number of emergency room visits for prescription drug overdoses has increased from 1,784 to 2,937 in just three years.

The number of deaths from prescription drug overdoses has been largely tied to the fear of prosecution for the purchase, possession and use of drugs. When dealing with an overdose, friends or participants who are worried about getting in trouble are less likely to take a victim to the emergency room or call 911 for fear of repercussions.

California’s Legislature recently passed a bill that would give legal protection to anyone who calls emergency services to report an overdose. Currently in California, anyone under the influence or in possession of illegal substances, including medications not prescribed to the user, are at risk of jail time or hefty fines.

The new law is said to guarantee lower death rates from drug overdose.

“All too frequently, we’ll have somebody drive up, essentially open a door, maybe remove somebody from a vehicle, and drive off honking to get our attention,” Dr. Shawn Evans, chief of staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital told KPBS. “And what that represents is somebody’s fear of prosecution and fear of the circumstances.”

As someone who grew up in an area riddled with drug use and drug-relate crimes, I have personally witnessed overdoses and the fear it invokes in people associated with the user. Much like the laws allowing unwanted newborn babies to be dropped off at fire stations with no questions asked, the new bill will allow drug users who witness an overdose to seek help for a victim without getting arrested.

Prescription drug overdose is the third leading cause of death in San Diego after heart disease and suicide according to a 2010 report by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office. After prescription medications, the fourth leading cause of death is from illegal drug use.

With the new legislation, fatal prescription medication overdoses would drop dramatically.

If you know you’re doing something illegal and don’t want to get caught, and you’re under the influence of a mind-altering substance, the wellbeing of another person may not be worth the risk. With the protection laws, more people will seek help in the instance of a medical emergency stemming from drug use, resulting in lower instances of death by overdose.

The bill is now in Gov. Jerry Brown’s hands, after a confer- ence held on Aug. 30 regarding trends and effective strategies to combat abuse of methamphetamines and prescription medication. Attendees discussed new emerging drugs, drug use and treatment on local campuses, engaging youth as partners, preventing drug abuse and other similar topics.

The conference was held in San Diego in collaboration with the Prescription Drug Task Force of San Diego, the County of San Diego Methamphetamine Strike Force and members of the addiction specialist team at McAlister Institute.

If Brown approves the bill, California will be the tenth state to have a law of its kind.