North Carolina Lawmakers Consider Legislation to Address Opioid Overdose Cycle

Opioid addiction has decimated communities across the country, including many here in North Carolina. Marked by the devastating cycle of abuse, addiction, and overdose, opioid dependency can prove inordinately difficult to treat and overcome. This is especially true when our criminal justice system has relied on a system of simply punishing offenders for drug crimes, including drug possession, rather than addressing the underlying problem of addiction.

As communities and legislators have realized the shortcomings of the aggressive approach inherent to America’s failed War on Drugs, cities, counties, and states have begun to pass new laws that aim to better address addiction and provide the help and resources individuals need to break the cycle. This is particularly important in communities where addiction to opioids, including heroin, OxyContin, and painkillers lead to fatal overdose, often among people who have already experienced overdose and / or have been ushered through our criminal justice system.

In an effort to stamp out the opioid overdose cycle, legislators and local law enforcement in Wilmington are looking to establish a pilot program for the treatment of opiate addiction. The proposed legislation – House Bill 342 – would focus on a few key things:

  • HB 342 would create a task force Quick Response Team (QRT) that responds to emergency calls and overdoses with other emergency response teams.
  • The QRT would use the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone, which has become increasing common. Unlike current protocol, however, HB 342, would enable the QRT to further help people who overdosed and were treated with naloxone by guiding them through addiction treatment.
  • Following an overdose revival, the QRT would help individuals get into treatment and rehabilitation groups.
  • The QRT would provide follow-up care with licensed recovery specialists and support to patients who overdose and their families.
  • HB 342 calls for $250,000 in funding annually over the next two years for the QRT and pilot program.

Wilmington’s proposed opioid pilot program fills a distinct need in our local communities, and deals with the problem of addition at a local level. While backers of the bill want to see statewide change in how we treat drug crimes and offer assistance to deal with addiction, they are hopeful that the result of the pilot program will be reassuring and that it will have significant impact on reducing the repetitive cycle of abuse, overdose and continued addition.

The cycle of addiction is precisely what local law enforcement and emergency responders see on a daily basis. Often, authorities and officials respond to calls involving the same people and the same scenario, reviving overdosing individuals only to do the same in a matter of days or weeks. Without a program that provides follow-up treatment and resources to these individuals, it sadly only becomes a matter of time, in many cases, before the cycle catches up and results in fatal consequences.

Naloxone has become a critical tool for law enforcement and emergency crews that respond to overdose calls, and it is being used more and more to reverse overdoses. Although use of naloxone saves lives and is becoming increasingly common, there is still a clear lack in helping individuals who overdose find the care and support they need. Lawmakers behind the bill also note that people who are saved by naloxone face higher risks of overdosing, as the drug can create immediate withdrawal symptoms.

Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh supports the new pilot program, as we know full well that naloxone can be extremely effective and a life-saver for many people who find themselves caught in the cycle of opioid addiction. With additional resources and follow up services, we believe our criminal justice system and communities can shift toward helping people rather than punishing them for drug crimes, and ultimately, that lives will be saved.

Our Raleigh criminal defense lawyers provide compassionate and aggressive representation to individuals charged with all types of drug offenses. If you have a question regarding a drug crime and how our firm can leverage over 50 years of experience to help you, contact us today for a free consultation.

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