As a criminal defense attorney who handles drug charges regularly, I have experienced firsthand the uptick in heroin cases in Maryland and I know well the dangers that many addicts face. So when I read about Maryland police departments taking measures to treat those who may accidentally overdose I was heartened by the news.
The story in The Washington Post focused on a mother of two from the Annapolis area who was found slumped over in her car was saved from certain death by a police officer. Danielle Hall, 30, said she took half her normal dose of the drug that day, but it was so strong that it proved near lethal. She was found by the officer motionless, with blue lips, and her breathing was extremely shallow. Annapolis Cpl. Justin Klinedinst had grabbed his Narcan kit just before taking the call to investigate a car parked in the middle of a road He had also recently completed training sessions on when and how to administer the heroin antidote naloxone. After squirting the nasal inhalant in Hall’s nose her breathing quickly picked up. She woke up amazed and grateful to be alive. On the way to a local hospital, Hall was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and is due back in court in December for the fineable offense. She has been clean for 78 days and has been doing well in the live-in recovery program that she embarked on after she was charged.
Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop said his department is using Narcan — the brand name of the antidote that his officers carry — to help save lives and also to track who is selling the life threatening drug. Pristoop believes that his department has been able to hinder several drug rings and has saved two lives using the nasal spray. This seems to be beneficial to everyone, and is precisely the outlook that we would hope law enforcement would take. Particularly in light of the recent spike in heroin overdoses, which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder described as an urgent public health crisis earlier this year. Holder also reiterated President Barack Obama’s call for more law enforcement agencies to train and equip their personnel with naloxone. The Washington Post article notes that the surge in Heroin-related deaths has been particularly disturbing, citing 464 such deaths in 2013, which is nearly double the number of fatalities recorded in 2010.
Virginia has also experienced an increase in heroin overdose deaths, reporting 213 fatal incidents last year. Unfortunately, Fairfax County police have said they will not equip or train their officers on how to use the antidote due to the associated costs. Fairfax police officials claim that emergency medical responders would arrive at any scene of an overdose the same time as police officers, which is not strictly correct. Oftentimes officers are the first emergency responder to arrive on scene, as was the case with Hall and her near brush with death.
As a criminal defense attorney, I am a strong advocate for treating drug addiction as a medical and social issue rather than a criminal issue. The so-called War on Drugs has been virtually impotent in its efforts to curb drug use and addiction. Number related to heroin use, and many other drugs such as PCP, cocaine, and marijuana, have all sky-rocketed. It’s time for everyone to realize that arresting addicts is not a smart or successful strategy. I’m glad to see that Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop and the AG seem to understand. I can only hope that more of their colleagues will do the same.