Guest column why h.b. 2147 is step in wrong direction in opioid war electricity load profile

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the picture in Tuesday, April 24 Delco Times of a bunch of politicians flanked by a dozen uniformed police officers and a smattering of civilians on the Courthouse steps says a lot about Delco’s response to the Opioid Epidemic. Entitled, “New Proposal Would Give Addicts More Access to Treatment,” this article describes Delco’s latest attempt to address the rising death toll (More victims in Delco this year than last year, more victims last year than the year before.)

Despite the headline, this new proposal, House Bill 2147, does not expand access to treatment. Introduced by Upper Darby Rep. James Santora, supported by Reps. Chris Quinn, Stephen Barrar and District Attorney Katayoun Copeland, this bill would actually provide less treatment by further criminalizing addiction and shunting users into the criminal justice system, which offers little or no treatment – just the old vicious cycle.

House Bill 2147, is an attempt to water down David’s Law. (Named for David Massi of Upper Chichester, who died in 2013, David’s Law, allows for the administration of Narcan by responders, and provides immunity from prosecution for both the overdose victim and the reporter). The new proposal would require the person experiencing the overdose to get a treatment assessment within 10 days or lose immunity to prosecution. (It doesn’t mention that Upper Darby, where most of our overdoses occur, doesn’t even have an assessment center.) It will discourage the reporting of overdoses, drive users underground and turn first responders, treatment providers and certified recovery specialists into agents of law enforcement.

David’s Law was designed to save lives by granting immunity; House Bill 2147 puts conditions on that immunity. David’s Law has saved thousands of lives but Rep. Santora’s proposal will take the heart out of this very successful piece of legislation.

We are very fortunate in Delaware County to have many great options for treatment/ recovery support and dedicated professionals at the Office of Behavioral Health to administer them. Help is available 24/7. The county has three access centers for assessment, two methadone clinics (more than some entire states), increasing numbers of doctors certified for Suboxone, and half a dozen treatment centers. In many cases people can begin treatment the same day they come in, regardless of income level. As mentioned in the article, the Certified Recovery Program at Crozer has been very successful, 1,277 patients and family members reached during the first 15 months of operation. There is a strong and supportive recovery community and an expanding network of recovery homes. Barriers to treatment still exist: insurance regulations, stigma, lack of access to medication assisted treatment etc. But despite these barriers, and through the hard work of hundreds of employees and volunteers, Delaware County’s treatment and support capacity increases every year. While we haven’t yet “turned the corner”, great progress has been made toward the ultimate goal, saving lives by making treatment and recovery as accessible and attractive as the next “bag.” Our treatment advances combined with the national effort to reduce supply and the availability of naloxone will reduce both overdoses and overdose deaths.

House Bill 2147 is an outlier in the county’s response and a step backwards, it criminalizes a medical event and seeks to prosecute those who experience it. (Fortunately, judging from the faces in the picture, very few members of Delco’s treatment, recovery and user communities have signed on to it.) This criminal justice approach has been a dismal failure. (The death rate has jumped significantly every year since the formation of the Heroin Task Force in 2012.) While it’s nice that they care enough to propose public health legislation and, no doubt, mean well, Reps. Santora, Quinn and Barrar and District Attorney Copeland know very little about addiction, epidemics or public health. They’re simply not qualified to lead the county’s response to the epidemic.

House Bill 2147 will result in more unnecessary deaths, more incarceration, increased costs to the county (who’s going to pay to hunt all these “addicts” down) and will do little to “stem the tide.” There are no quick fixes to this crisis but Reps. Santora, Quinn, Barrar and D.A. Copeland can help. They can do their jobs and secure funding for a new recovery/access center in Upper Darby; funding to improve our methadone clinics; to provide decent prison health care; allow MAT for those in drug court; increase the availability of suboxone; and educate and train our doctors, nurses and medical personnel. Those are some of the tactics that are working in other states, let’s try them here! But let’s stop criminalizing, stigmatizing and incarcerating the victims of this disease. This is a health care epidemic, not a criminal justice epidemic. Let’s focus on a health care solution. They say in medicine, “first do no harm,” House Bill 2147 would do more harm than good. Let’s dispose of it.