Police car.

New Data Highlights Complexity of Good Samaritan Overdose Law Landscape

By David Momjian

Since 1999, over 800,000 people have died from a drug overdose in the United States, with more than half of those deaths (500,000) resulting from opioid overdose.

Additionally, all 50 states have experienced a spike in overdose deaths in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 12-month period ending in May 2020, 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States; the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.

To combat the rising death toll from drug overdoses, 47 state legislatures and the District of Columbia have passed Good Samaritan laws (GSLs) to protect bystanders from criminal prosecution if they call for medical assistance during a drug overdose. Bystanders to a drug overdose are often worried that by calling for help, they could be arrested for drug possession or evicted by the police, who often arrive first at the scene of a 911 call, even if it is a medical emergency.

A new dataset built by the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law and funded by Vital Strategies, covers the evolution of GSLs in the United States from January 1, 2007, to June 1, 2021.

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Healthcare concept of professional psychologist doctor consult in psychotherapy session or counsel diagnosis health.

The Case for Non-Police Response to Behavioral Health Crises

By Jennifer J. Carroll and Taleed El-Sabawi

People who use drugs continue to die at staggering rates, due not only to overdose from contaminated drug supply, but also due to our persistent reliance on the carceral system to respond to behavioral health crises.

This approach stems from the state-sanctioned violence of the War on Drugs. It takes various forms, including the use of police officers as first responders to behavioral health crises (including welfare checks), the excessive police use of force, and the use of potentially lethal restraint methods to subdue agitated persons. It also manifests in police officers’ use of jail cells as tools for forced “detox” believing that coerced withdrawal while in custody will reduce overdose risk or help someone “go clean” (it very clearly does not).

Evidence-based alternatives to police response for behavioral health crises exist. However, despite being both feasible and effective, these alternatives to police intervention remain the exception, rather than the rule.

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medical needles in a pile

How Supervised Injection Sites Can Help Address the Overdose Crisis

By Carly Roberts

Supervised injection sites, also known as safe injection sites, are among the most effective, evidence-based harm reduction tools available to counter the opioid overdose crisis.

Supervised injection sites are legally sanctioned locations that provide a hygienic space for people to inject pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of trained staff. Safe injection sites often provide additional services including needle exchanges, drug testing (especially important for detecting lethal fentanyl-laced drugs and preventing “mass overdose” events), and referral to treatment and social services.

The opioid overdose crisis in the U.S., which had a death toll of over 45,000 in 2018, and which is predicted to worsen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, warrants a bold, brave, and thorough response. Harm reduction programs, including supervised injection sites, should be integrated into opioid epidemic response strategies in order to save lives and improve individual and community outcomes.

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Pill bottles.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Opioid Epidemic Continues

By Laura Karas

“The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh,

As he swung toward them holding up the hand

Half in appeal, but half as if to keep

The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all—

Since he was old enough to know, big boy

Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart—

He saw all spoiled. . . .

He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.

And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.

No one believed. They listened at his heart.

Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.

No more to build on there. And they, since they

Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”

This except from Robert Frost’s 1916 poem “Out, Out—,” which portrays the sudden death of a young boy after a woodcutting accident and the onlookers’ casual acceptance of his tragic death, is particularly apropos today, more than one hundred years later, in an America that looks very different than that of Frost’s time. Between the opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, America now suffers from a surplus of needless, untimely deaths.

Just as the protagonist of Frost’s poem became the casualty of a tragic accident, so too do the many victims of the opioid epidemic become casualties in a losing battle — lives “spoiled” by substance use disorder and cut short by tragic overdose. In this post I explore the status of the opioid epidemic in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing initiatives to address opioid use disorder (OUD).

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Several vaping devices on a table

E-Cigarette Laws that Work for Everyone

By Daniel Aaron

The Trump Administration has retreated from proposed tobacco regulations that experts generally agree would benefit public health. The regulations would have included a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, a favorite of children who use e-cigarettes. Currently millions of youth are estimated to be addicted to e-cigarettes.

The rules also could have reduced nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels. Nicotine is the addicting substance largely responsible for continued smoking. If nicotine were “decoupled” from smoking, smokers might turn to other sources of nicotine, rather than continuing to smoke. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., killing about 500,000 Americans each year, or just about the number of Americans who died in World War I and World War II combined.

Part of the difficulty in regulating e-cigarettes is that, unlike cigarettes, they offer benefits and harms that differ across generations. This concern is called intergenerational equity. How can a solution be crafted that serves all Americans?

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Illustration of a diverse group of people and health care workers

Q&A with Adam Lustig, Trust for America’s Health, on Laws to Promote Cost-Savings in States

By The Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research

This week, the Center for Public Health Law Research and Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) published the first two of 13 comprehensive datasets on laws that can support cost-savings for states and promote health and well-being. Researchers from Center used the scientific policy surveillance process to create datasets that provide states with detailed information about the current state of U.S. laws.

The first two datasets, covering syringe service programs (SSPs) and tobacco pricing strategies, offer an in-depth look at two harm reduction-focused laws that can also have a positive economic impact in communities.

We spoke with Adam Lustig, MS, the manager of the Promoting Health & Cost Control in States (PHACCS) project at TFAH.

CPHLR: These new datasets are the first two of 13, what other topics are being mapped, and how were these topics chosen?

Adam Lustig: We are incredibly excited for the release of the remaining eleven datasets through the summer of 2020. For a preview of things to come, we anticipate releasing datasets on Smoke-Free policies, Alcohol Pricing Strategies, Complete Streets, Ban the Box, and Earned Income Tax Credit in the first quarter of 2020. Following those datasets, we will publish the remaining datasets on School Nutrition Programs, Earned Sick Leave, Paid Family Leave, Rapid Re-Housing, Universal pre-K, and Housing Rehabilitation Loan and Grant Programs throughout the summer of 2020.

CPHLR: These first two datasets, and one forthcoming on alcohol pricing, focus specifically on harm reduction for substance use. Why are harm reduction strategies integral to cost control? Read More

Black and white photograph of a gavel in front of scales of justice

Big Ruling in Philadelphia: The Controlled Substances Act does not forbid a safe drug consumption room

By Scott Burris

Federal District Judge Gerald McHugh of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled today that the operation of a safe injection site to prevent overdose, HIV, and other harms associated with drug injection would not violate the federal Controlled Substances Act.  The ruling came in an action for declaratory and injunctive relief brought by the local U.S. Attorney, seeking to prevent the opening of “Safehouse” by a private group led by former Pennsylvania Governor and Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell. The judge denied the requested relief.

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3-D rendering of an HIV virus

Not Another Scott County?

By Emily Beukema, Aila Hoss, and Nicolas Terry

In November 2014, Scott County, Indiana was the site of a now infamous HIV outbreak linked to intravenous drug use. Syringe service programs (SSP) would not only have curbed that outbreak but also could have prevented it from occurring in the first place. Later analysis found that then Governor Pence of Indiana failed to declare a state of emergency until two months after the peak infection rate and that, even after that declaration, disagreements among stakeholders later delayed the implementation of a temporary SSP. Absent those delays the number of infections could have been dramatically decreased.

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The Opioid Crisis Requires Evidence-Based Solutions, Part III: How the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction Dismissed Harm Reduction Strategies

By Mason Marks

Drug overdose is a leading cause of death in Americans under 50. Opioids are responsible for most drug-related deaths killing an estimated 91 people each day. In Part I of this three-part series, I discuss how the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis misinterpreted scientific studies and used data to support unfounded conclusions. In Part II I explore how the Commission dismissed medical interventions used successfully in the U.S. and abroad such as kratom and ibogaine. In this third part of the series, I explain how the Commission ignored increasingly proven harm reduction strategies such as drug checking and safe injection facilities (SIFs).

In its final report released November 1, 2017, the President’s Commission acknowledged that “synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl analogs, are by far the most problematic substances because they are emerging as a leading cause of opioid overdose deaths in the United States.” While speaking before the House Oversight Committee last month, the Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan stated that of the 1180 overdose deaths in his state this year, 850 (72%) were due to synthetic opioids. Street drugs are often contaminated with fentanyl and other synthetics. Dealers add them to heroin, and buyers may not be aware that they are consuming adulterated drugs. As a result, they can be caught off guard by their potency, which contributes to respiratory depression and death. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are responsible for the sharpest rise in opioid-related mortality (see blue line in Fig. 1 below). Read More