Lawmakers eye new drug reporting law to help stop heroin overdoses
By the time Mary D’Eramo knew her daughter was addicted to heroin, about a dozen others in town had already overdosed from the drug.
Most, like her daughter, survived. Others did not.
That was in 2003, when a growing number of teens in town turned to cheap heroin after getting hooked on the powerful painkiller, OxyContin, years earlier.
“We had no idea until then,” D’Eramo said. “If we had known, we could have stepped in earlier.”
Now, lawmakers are eyeing a bill ordering all doctors who treat an overdose victim to notify the state within 48 hours.
The Joint Committee on Public Health will hold a hearing on that bill, along with more than a dozen others dealing with substance abuse issues, Tuesday at the Statehouse.
Health care professionals are required now to notify the state Department of Public Health when they treat overdose cases, but there is a significant lag time before that information is compiled and dispersed.
Joanne Peterson, founder of Learn to Cope, a parental support group, said quick notification could alert local police, schools and parents to clusters of drug problems and get help to those areas.
“We would have real time numbers,” Peterson said. “We would be able to do something before it is too late.”
The deadly toll OxyContin and heroin has taken on the region was detailed in two special reports in The Enterprise: Wasted Youth and Deadly Surge.
There are four similar bills calling for quick overdose notification now being discussed by lawmakers, along with bills calling for more training for doctors before prescribing pain killers, more school programs and instituting tighter controls on prescription drugs.
State Sen. Steven A. Tolman, who is sponsoring one of the notification bills, said the plan would identify where overdoses are occurring when it happens — not more than a year later.
It would also help identify new, addictive drugs hitting the streets, he said.
Tolman’s bill calls for every doctor who treats a drug or alcohol overdose victim in a hospital, sanatorium or licensed health care facility to report the case within 48 hours to either the Department of Public Health commissioner or the Department of Mental Health commissioner. The report would include the type of drug, the patient’s gender, hometown and age.
Abington Police Chief David Majenksi said those numbers would have been a help when OxyContin — then heroin — hit his town.
Few people at the time wanted to admit there was a drug problem in the community, he said. “It was hard for people to wrap their heads around it,” Majenski said. “In their minds they didn’t want to believe it or couldn’t believe it.”
Independent numbers would have bolstered what the Police Department was saying — and seeing on the streets, he said.
D’Eramo, who is also a member of Learn to Cope, said if Abington and other communities had access to overdose numbers sooner as far back as 2001, they may have been able to identify the problem before it worsened.
“We could have ramped up all of these services faster,” she said.
The plan would track all types of drug overdoses and could help identify new drugs hitting the streets, several said.
Three years ago, Michael Welch Jr., 24, of Raynham died of complications from an overdose of the painkiller fentanyl when he chewed one of the drug patches.
His mother, Debra Welch, said notifying the state within 48 hours of the overdose death is a good idea to track different deadly drugs in a community but more must be done just as quickly.
“If they could have an Amber Alert-type response, where police can rush to the ER, find out the name of the drug and the drug dealers and a carload of detectives can run out and get who is selling where the kid was partying, that would be ideal,” she said. “It is wishful thinking, I know.”
Maureen Boyle can be reached at email@example.com.