Editorial: Drug-charge amnesty could save lives

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Reducing the number of drug addicts is hard. Reducing the number of people who dump dead bodies on curbs and doorsteps out of fear of prosecution is not.

There is no simple solution to what the state is now calling a drug-abuse epidemic, but two recent incidents highlight the potential life-saving value of granting limited immunity to those who call for help when there’s been an overdose.

Twice in the last month, bodies have been dumped locally in what police believe are drug-related deaths.

Last month in Weymouth, a man brought the body of a 22-year-old woman, whose last known address was in Quincy, to South Shore Hospital and then fled.

The 19-year-old Worcester resident later told Weymouth police that he had left because he panicked.

This week in Quincy, police reported that a body found by a pedestrian was that of Matthew J. Gatturna of Whitman, who police suspect overdosed elsewhere and was left near a sewer pipe near Sea Street.

Before ending formal sessions for the year, the Legislature was presented with a report from the state OxyContin and Heroin Commission saying opiate addiction has reached epidemic levels and requires the kind of emergency response now focused on the H1N1 flu virus.

Well in excess of 3,000 state residents have died of opiate-related overdoses over the past seven years. This year alone has seen such deaths in Abington, Whitman, Scituate, Pembroke, Duxbury, Marshfield and Hull.

Among the commission’s 20 recommendations was a proposal to take away the threat of prosecution – with some limitations – against anyone who reports a potential overdose.

Quincy police Capt. John Dougan said this week’s incident in Quincy could be a case where a quick police response could have prevented an overdose death.

Critics may argue that the state should not be creating laws that impinge on the ability to use law enforcement as a tool in our fight on illegal drugs.

But the caller in such cases, more likely than not, was not going to be caught in the first place.

The Legislature should be studying this aspect of the commission’s report during its informal sessions this month and should approve it when winter recess ends in January.

Making this change will not keep everyone who overdoses out of the morgue.

In a drug-addled stupor, fear of prosecution is only one of several impediments from seeking help for a friend.

It does, however, clear away one obstacle and in some cases that might be all it takes to save a life.

The Patriot Ledger