New Massachusetts campaign urges overdose witnesses to call 911
BOSTON — When there is a witness to a drug overdose, that witness does not call 911 to get help for the overdosing user 60 to 70 percent of the time, according to the attorney general's office.
Attorney General Maura Healey teamed up with Gov. Charlie Baker, administration officials and law enforcement officers Tuesday to roll out the "Make the Right Call" campaign to encourage people who witness an overdose to call for emergency help, and to remind witnesses that the Massachusetts 911 Good Samaritan law protects them from arrest or prosecution for seeking help.
"This law, this 911 Good Samaritan law, will reinforce to bystanders and first responders alike that the most important step to take when someone is having an overdose is to save their life," Baker said. "And that someone shouldn't face legal consequences for taking that step."
The law, according to the state's top prosecutor, states that "if you see someone overdosing, if you're with someone who is overdosing, call 911, get them help. And if you do call 911 to save that person's life, you will not be prosecuted for drug use or possession."
Massachusetts is one of 35 states with a law that protects people who call 911 to report a possible drug overdose, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Ads for the campaign will be displayed on billboards, trash cans, outdoor furniture and in public bathrooms, near areas where overdoses might take place. The campaign, which will run through June, carries a $250,000 cost, according to the administration.
The ads direct people to www.Mass.gov/MakeTheRightCall, where the state has made available information on what to tell the dispatcher when reporting an overdose to 911, what to do while waiting for help to arrive, and where to access the overdose reversal drug naloxone.
The campaign seeks to increase the use of 911 in drug overdose situations and to eliminate the fear of arrest or prosecution among drug users or others for calling 911.
"No one should die simply because a friend or a stranger is afraid to pick up the phone and call 911 for help," Healey said.
Caitrin Houlihan, an addict in long-term recovery, said she is only alive because people like her mother called 911 when she was overdosing. But she also said she had been abandoned by people too worried to call 911 to get her help while overdosing.
"I've overdosed multiple times, and family and friends have called 911 so that first responders could revive me," Houlihan said. "But I've also had people run away because they're scared ... I've been left, I had somebody leave me because they had warrants and leave me there and somebody else found me."
As the opioid epidemic has swept across the state and intensified in recent years, so too has the use of naloxone, a drug that law enforcement and public health officials say has the power to pull an overdose victim back from the brink of death.
In 2013, Massachusetts emergency responders administered naloxone in 5,443 incidents, according to Baker. Last year, the overdose reversal drug was used 9,000 times.
"Without the availability of Narcan and the opportunity to use it as a tool to prevent overdose deaths, Massachusetts would be dealing with a crisis that could double or triple overnight with respect to the size of what's already a horrible scourge on so many of our communities and our families," the governor said.
State public health officials earlier this month confirmed 1,379 unintentional or undetermined opioid-related deaths in 2015 and said the opioid death rate over the first three months of 2016 was comparable to the first quarter of 2015.
According to the Department of Public Health, the 1,379 deaths last year were up from 1,282 in 2014. Officials also announced that more than half of confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths with a toxicology screen had a positive screen for fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate that is often mixed into heroin to give it a potentially-deadly boost in potency.
Last year, the Municipal Naloxone Bulk Purchase Trust Fund was established with initial state funding of $150,000 as part of the budget process the Legislature concluded in July.
Healey's office in August reached an agreement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone, that required the company to pay the state $325,000 -- roughly the cost of 10,000 doses of Narcan — to help offset the cost of the drug for cities and towns.
The attorney general said Tuesday that at least 115 municipalities have requested naloxone through the state's bulk purchasing program and more than 4,500 doses have been distributed at a cost of $20 per dose. The program, she said, is "having its effect."
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