The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 25, 2019 1:00 am

Expanded Lifeline law a tool in opioid fight

Kevin Hunter

One of the worst things a parent or family member can experience is witnessing their loved one unconscious from a drug overdose.

I've spoken to too many parents who have lost their son or daughter from an overdose, with each one painfully struggling to figure out why this happened and how it could have been prevented.

Fort Wayne has experienced a surge of fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses over the past few years. This is from the wave of heroin and fentanyl hitting the streets. The Fort Wayne Police Department saw heroin trending up in 2014 with record seizures. We also collaborated with the local office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, helping intercept eight kilos of heroin destined for Fort Wayne.

In 2015, we saw non-pharmaceutical forms of fentanyl hit city streets, and also saw a huge increase in overdoses.

One summer weekend in 2015, we saw three people die from overdoses in a 24-hour period; three people visited the same drug dealer at the same time, and all bought what they were told was heroin. These three people left together, with one of them injecting what they had just bought. That person immediately overdosed and died in front of the other two people, who left their friend behind and went their separate ways. After seeing their friend die, the two remaining friends used that same substance and also died. This shows how powerful opioid addiction is.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, and an amount as small as 2 milligrams can kill someone. The fentanyl in Fort Wayne is illicitly manufactured in either Mexico or China and usually comes as a white powder. Our worst year for overdoses was 2017, with 1,200 people experiencing non-fatal overdoses and 127 people dying. That year, we seized the most fentanyl – 1,504 grams.

Fast-forward to 2019 and overdoses are on the decline, fortunately.

From January to July, we saw a 35% decrease in non-fatal overdoses compared to the same time period in 2018.

This is because of two reasons: the massive rise of crystal meth use and, importantly, the widespread availability and use of the drug Naloxone.

Naloxone has been a lifesaver for many people suffering an opioid overdose. When a person overdoses from opioids, their breathing slows or stops and can cause death.

When Naloxone is administered, it kicks out the opioids from the opioid receptors in the brain and restores normal breathing. Indiana has what's known as “Aaron's Law,” which allows any Hoosier to obtain Naloxone without a prescription. “Aaron's Law” protects from criminal and civil liability a person who, in good faith, administers Naloxone to someone overdosing.

While Indiana has a Lifeline law, it specifically covers the situation of a person needing medical assistance after alcohol consumption. If the goal of a Lifeline law is to save lives, this law needs to be amended to include situations involving a person suffering a drug overdose. Many times, officers are called to an overdose only after someone gets rid of the drugs or paraphernalia, making it too late to administer Naloxone and save the person's life.

An amendment to the good Samaritan law covering drug overdoses would most likely encourage an ambivalent friend to call EMS and police more quickly if they knew they could avoid arrest. This would be a step in the right direction.

Contact your state legislatures to ask that this law be changed.

Additionally, the Regional Mental Health Coalition of Northeast Indiana, an initiative of The Lutheran Foundation, is working to educate legislators about this need for an amendment.

Capt. Kevin Hunter is with the Fort Wayne Police Department's Vice and Narcotics Bureau.

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