Parent Activists and Overdose Prevention Groups Cheer Groundbreaking State Legislation
California Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) this week introduced an overdose prevention bill that many are hailing as the first of its kind in the state.
The bill, AB 831, asks the Legislature to take action to address California’s growing accidental drug overdose problem by establishing a funding source for overdose prevention programs, as well as convene a state task force of overdose prevention experts and other public health officials to study the issue and create a series of comprehensive recommendations to address the problem.
According to the California Department of Public Health death records, overdose was the leading cause of accidental injury-related death in 2009. More Californians died from drug poisoning than from motor vehicle accidents.
The bill is supported by the Drug Policy Alliance and is part of a national effort by DPA to promote effective approaches to preventing overdose deaths. It adds to the successful passage of DPA’s 911 Good Samaritan bill last year, which went into effect January 1.
“Thousands of Californians die every year from accidental overdose and parents across the state are demanding action,” said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, sponsors of the bill. “This bill would make a modest but critically important investment in helping to reduce overdose deaths and save lives.”
“We need to leave no stone unturned when it comes to educating parents about our drug epidemic and overdose problem,” said Natalie Costa, executive producer of Behind the Orange Curtain, a documentary highlighting the problem of prescription drug overdose and its impact on families in California. “Families coping with a loved one whose drug use puts them at high risk of an overdose have had to wait too long for solutions like the ones in AB 831. It’s tremendous that someone is finally doing something.”
According to Eliza Wheeler, manager of Oakland’s Drug Overdose Prevention Education (DOPE) program, small, community-based programs in California have been striving independently to address the overdose epidemic for nearly 20 years with little to no funding or support at the state level. A source of funding would help to both strengthen existing programs and help bring new programs to much of the state, she said.“States like New York and Massachusetts have taken the lead on addressing overdose with comprehensive state-wide initiatives, while California continues to struggle with a patchwork of under-supported programs peppered throughout the state, with great areas of the state lacking any overdose prevention program whatsoever,” said Wheeler.
The bill would establish a $500,000 grants program that would allow existing overdose prevention programs to apply for small amounts of funding, as well as encourage the creation of new programs in communities where none currently exist. It encourages communities to address overdose prevention from a health and education perspective rather than a punitive, criminal justice perspective, said Denise Cullen, co-founder and executive director of Broken No More, an organization that helps parents grieving a child lost to drug overdose.
“Anecdotal reports from other states tell us that simply cracking down on prescription painkiller availability doesn’t always work and can have unintended consequences, such as driving prescription drug abusers to heroin,” Cullen said. “We can’t keep relying on just crossing our fingers and hoping that a scattershot approach to preventing these deaths will work. We urgently need a comprehensive plan and we urgently need funding.”
The bill will be heard in the Health Committee on April 9.