A House committee approved legislation aimed at curbing the increasing number of heroin deaths in Pennsylvania.
The bill, which now goes to the full House, would help prevent overdose deaths by ensuring that first responders have access to a drug to stop the overdose in progress and that "Good Samaritans" who try to help the addict do not face criminal charges.
By a unanimouis vote the House Humane Services Committee approved a bill sponsored by committee chairman Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R., Bucks) and Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny) that would give first responders access to the drug Narcan.
Known as "the miracle drug" Narcan can stop an overdose death immediately and bring a user back to full consciousness with no harmful effects.
“The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman brought this problem to national attention,” said Frankel. “But this is not about what’s happening in New York, it’s about what’s happening in southwest Pennsylvania and the rest of the Commonwealth.”
According to the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASADAD), Narcan distribution programs are in use in 15 states and Washington, D.C. Massachusetts reports the reversal of 2,000 overdoses since the start of its program.
The prescription drug problem and heroin problem in Pennsylvania have reached epidemic levels with hundreds of overdoses and overdose deaths being reported across the Commonwealth.
Since the start of 2014, 22 people have died in western Pennsylvania and six overdosed in a single week in Bucks County.
“Most of the overdose deaths in our communities are considered to be accidental, and if there is a successful way through Narcan to help stop them from occurring, then we should allow that to happen and give our first responders the necessary resources,” DiGirolamo said.
The legislation also includes so-called "Good Samaritan" provisions that would provide immunity for those seeking help for those overdosing on dangerous drugs. Currently 14 states plus the District of Columbia have laws protecting Good Samaritans in overdose cases.
“My son would be alive today if there were Narcan and a Good Samaritan law,” said Susan Kelly, the founder of the Western PA chapter of Grief Recovery After Substance Passing.
Kelly's son died of an overdose in 2005, after his frightened friends failed to call 911 and he was taken too late to a hospital. “Those kids were just scared and didn’t know what to do. If that law were in effect, he’d be alive. Not just him, but lots of kids,” she said.
Click here for Philly.com's politics page.