CHARLESTON, W.Va. – People from around the state converged in Charleston Thursday for what was titled, “A Conversation about Heroin and Opioids in West Virginia.”
Parents who have lost children to overdoses, recovering addicts, healthcare workers and legislators convened to discuss the disease of addiction and what options are available. The main topic of discussion was legislation currently being reviewed by the House of Delegates known as Good Samaritan 911. The bill – House Bill 2945 or the Overdose Prevention Act – would allow someone at the scene of an overdose to call for help without fear of being charged for possession of a controlled substance, or alcohol consumption by minors. Twenty-two states already have this law in place.
The keynote speaker Thursday was Gary Mendell, founder of the national organization Shatterproof, who lost his own son after a battle with addiction.
Dr. Dan Foster, former State Senator and head of the Kanawha Substance Abuse Task Force, moderated the panel. Matt Kerner of Opportunity House in Buckhannon and Matt Boggs of the Healing Place in Huntington both participated and told of their own stories of overcoming addiction themselves and the work they do to help others. Dustin Wood, who was also helped by the Healing Place, explained that when he overdosed he was left on the curb by those he was using opioids with because they were too afraid to call for help.
Dr. Foster explained, “The West Virginia Legislature started looking at Good Samaritan in 2011.” He continued, “This state has eight of the 10 recommendations nationally recognized to diminish overdoses.”
One of the two remaining recommendations is the Good Samaritan 911 legislation. The other is access to an opioid antagonist called naloxone – and was in a bill passed by the Legislature earlier this session.
David Hume of Shatterproof explained that his son died when his son’s friends, afraid to call 911, drove him to a hospital parking lot where his body was found an hour later.
West Virginia has the highest rate of overdoses deaths in the United States. And while it is estimated that 80 percent of overdose victims found by paramedics are alone, it is also known that 80 percent of heroin users inject with a partner.
Gary Mendell wrapped up the event by telling those attending, “This is your state. This is your cause. Together, we can do this.”