WASHINGTON - June 25 - On Saturday, the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) unanimously adopted a resolution supporting policies that could save thousands of lives by treating drug overdoses before they become fatal. “Last year, our nation’s mayors agreed that we must address the problems of substance use and abuse with a public health approach. This year we have continued that work by calling for policies that increase public safety by preventing unnecessary deaths. These policies have saved lives in Santa Fe and will work in other cities,” said Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, who sponsored the resolution at the 76th USCM Annual Meeting in Miami, Florida.
Adopted resolutions become the official policy of the USCM, which speaks as one voice to promote best practices and the most pressing priorities of our nation’s cities. The USCM last year declared the war on drugs a failure and called for a “New Bottom Line” in U.S. drug policy, which should be measured by the number of lives saved rather than the number of people imprisoned. This year’s resolution sets forth a comprehensive strategy for cities and states to reduce overdose morbidity and mortality by:
Supporting local programs that distribute naloxone – an opiate antagonist medication effective in reversing the respiratory failure that typically causes death from opioid overdose – directly to drug users, their friends, families and communities;
Urging state governments to adopt emergency “Good Samaritan” immunity policies that shield from prosecution people who are experiencing or have witnessed an accidental or intentional drug overdose and who have contacted 911 to request emergency medical treatment for the victim of drug toxicity or overdose;
Calling on the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to urgently fund research to evaluate scientifically the effectiveness of overdose prevention interventions and develop model programs; and
Calling on the Food and Drug Administration to take all necessary and reasonable steps to facilitate the testing and approval of nasal and/or over-the-counter formulations of naloxone and to consider recommending prescription naloxone concurrent with prescribing strong opioid analgesics.
The mayors’ action responds to the facts that drug overdose is the second leading cause of injury death in the United States and that many overdose fatalities occur because peers delay or forego calling 911 for fear of arrest or police involvement – continually identified by researchers as the most significant barrier to the ideal first response of calling emergency services.
Nearly one hundred colleges and universities have adopted Good Samaritan immunity policies that have proven effective in encouraging students to seek help in the event of an alcohol or other drug overdose. New Mexico recently enacted the first such law in the country – the 911 Good Samaritan Act of 2007 – and similar life-saving legislation is pending in several states across the country, including California, Illinois, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington.
“Life-saving medications exist and must be made more widely available in the event of an overdose. At the same time, a victim or witness must not be afraid to ask emergency personnel for assistance. It should never be a crime to save someone’s life. The true crime is condoning policies that prevent victims from receiving that medication,” said Daniel Abrahamson, director of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Naloxone can be safely administered by non-medical professionals intravenously, intramuscularly and intranasally. Programs that provide overdose prevention education, rescue breathing training and take-home naloxone have been developed in New Mexico, Connecticut, Northern California, and the cities of Baltimore, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
In 2000, drug overdoses resulted in $2.24 billion worth of direct medical costs and an estimated $23.7 billion in lost productivity. Naloxone distribution pilot programs are inexpensive and have been added to existing services without the need for increased staff or space. These programs have been shown to save cities money by averting significant health care costs and have already saved several thousand lives.
The resolution is available here.