Our community hospitals will be doing more to reduce the number of accidental overdoses caused by heroin, opiates and illegal drugs.
A new law signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott this month requires hospitals with emergency departments to develop best practices that focus on the prevention of unintentional overdoses.
Additionally, the law permits reporting of suspected or actual overdoses to a central database at the Florida Department of Health. The information will be used to maximize the use of funding programs for first responders and to disseminate money for local substance-abuse treatment centers.
In a nutshell, this law will help those who have suffered nonfatal overdoses. Hospitals now have to find new ways to help patients who have survived — instead of just letting them walk out of the emergency rooms. Data shows that people who have overdosed on drugs are likely to do so again and eventually face the possibility of dying from a fatal overdose.
Last year, an estimated 4,000 people died from opioid overdoses in Florida, including more than 650 in Palm Beach County. In May, Scott declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. Across our nation, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50.
My organization, NOPE (Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education) Task Force, which educates youth and their families in schools and community centers about abusing illegal drugs and was founded in West Palm Beach, spearheaded the passage of the new law.
For me, this effort is very personal.
In 2003, my son, Richard Perry, died from an accidental drug overdose. One month prior to his death, Rich had overdosed on a combination of prescribed medications and heroin, and was admitted to an emergency room where he was given Narcan, was revived, and then released. He was sent to the street within a few hours of the 911 call, with instructions: “Stop using drugs,” and, “return to the ER if needed.”
Neither our family nor his medical doctors were made aware of his first overdose incident.
My husband and I believe that had we been notified of the first overdose and had Rich been given the opportunity for treatment when he was admitted to the ER, he would be alive today or would have, at the very least, stood a fighting chance to recover from drugs.
We must do more. That’s why I hope other states pass similar laws as “Richie’s Law” and create more initiatives to prevent further tragedies.
KAREN PERRY, WEST PALM BEACH
Editor’s note: Karen Perry is the executive director of NOPE.