Most of these, says DPA, are preventable deaths: "over half of all accidental overdose deaths in Houston in the past five years could have been prevented if the overdose reversal medication naloxone, coupled with overdose prevention education, had been available to people at risk of an opiate overdose and their loved ones."
Our current approaches to the problem, however, may be making things worse, says DPA: "Despite the severity of this epidemic, the steps the state has taken to date have been ineffective, and even counterproductive. Texas has largely focused on punitive measures, like prosecuting people who use drugs with someone that later overdoses, such as the case of Kristin Metz, a 29-year-old woman sentenced to 10 years for injecting her best friend with heroin, at the friend’s request."
Among the group's policy recommendations are to expand access to drugs that counter the effects of opiate overdose: "Naloxone, or Narcan, is a life saving tool used to reverse opiate-based drug overdoses. Naloxone has been FDAapproved since 1971, and presents no potential for abuse as it has no pharmacological effect; it also has no effect if it is taken by a person that does not have opiates in their system. It needs to be made more readily available to those who may be in a position to respond to an overdose."
However, suggestions which cost new money, regrettably, will be difficult to pass in the 82nd Texas Legislature because of the massive budget shortfall. But DPA did suggest one excellent idea that would cost no new money and which could immediately start to save lives:
911 Good Samaritan Laws encourage people to call 911 by creating an exemption from arrest, charge or prosecution for possession of small amounts of drugs or alcohol when needing or calling for medical assistance in the event of an overdose. The policy prioritizes saving lives over arrests for minor drug or alcohol law violations. Such laws are essential because overdose fatalities often occur when peers delay or forego calling 911 out of fear of arrest or police involvement, which researchers identify as the most significant barrier to the ideal first response of calling emergency services.This suggestion raises the question: Should the goal of drug policy be to save lives or maximize punishment? Historically, it's been the latter, but to me the approaches suggested by DPA make a lot of sense.
Such legislation does not protect people from arrest for other offenses, such as selling or trafficking drugs. This policy protects only the caller and overdose victim from arrest and prosecution for simple drug possession, possession of paraphernalia, and/or being under the influence.
Texas’ neighbor, New Mexico, became the first state in the nation to adopt a life-saving Good Samaritan law in 2007. Washington passed a Good Samaritan law in 2009 and several other states are considering similar legislation.
In fact, Good Samaritan policies for alcohol and/or other drugs are already saving lives at many of Texas’s major universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, Rice University, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, and Texas Christian University, as well as nearly one hundred other college campuses nationwide. SMU’s decision to adopt a Good Samaritan policy for alcohol and other drugs was a direct response to the tragic overdose deaths of several students in recent years. According to school officials, the policy appears to be working: students are less reluctant to call for help now that they do not face student conduct sanctions.
UPDATE: Via Sifting the Haystack, "8th Annual Harm Reduction Conference Comes to Texas Nov. 18-21."