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With the recent drug overdose death of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the news, the discussion about drug abuse has once again been thrust into the forefront. According to the CDC, drug-poisoning deaths (both legal and illegally obtained) have tripled in the U.S. over the past 30 years. In fact in 2010, during the most recent year for which data is available, drug fatalities increased by 3%. In many states, including California, drug overdose fatalities have surpassed motor vehicle deaths for the number one cause of accidental injury-related death. This increase, many experts agree is due to the aggressive prescribing of pain medication we’ve seen in the past decade. Drugs like Oxycontin and Percocet are two legal and popular opioid drugs prescribed by many doctors for pain related injuries. The scary part is that they are similar to Heroine in that they are all derived from the poppy plant. Needless to say they are highly addictive and many users don’t realize the risk they are taking by starting up on these meds.

The sad part is that many of these deaths could have been prevented if someone had made the 911 call. The chances of surviving an overdose greatly depend on how quickly the person gets medical attention. And, in most cases people who overdose are not initially alone when they start to have a negative reaction. While witnesses to heart attacks, car accidents or strokes won’t hesitate to call the authorities, witnesses to someone overdosing from illegal drugs often are afraid to call for help because they are concerned about getting in legal trouble for drug possession themselves.

Californians should be aware that as of January 1, 2013, the 911 Good Samaritan law took effect. This law is meant to take away the fear factor and encourage bystanders at the scene of a possible overdose to call 911 without any repercussions for their own minor drug law violations. This means that if you are at the scene of an overdose and possess small amounts of drugs and/or paraphernalia or are under the influence, you will not get in trouble. It’s basically motivation for the caller to help save another person’s life without hesitation. There are at least 14 states that currently abide by this law including New Mexico, Washington, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Illinois, Colorado, Florida, Delaware, North Carolina, New Jersey and Vermont. Many more have the bill pending.

Why do the statistics remain on the rise despite a huge national effort to stop drug abuse? The answer is we need to do a better job at educating the public about prescription drug as well as illegal street drug abuse. From middle schoolers to adults, everyone could use a course on the risks and dangers of drug use and what to do in the case of an emergency to possibly save a life. The nationwide budget cuts to education spending over the years has done away with a lot of the drug education classes in the public school system. It’s up to parents and caregivers to take the time to teach teens about why to avoid peer pressure and just say no. It’s also important for adults to take a close look at the prescription drugs that are being prescribed in their family and limit or avoid opiate based pain meds. It’s hard to say when someone will become addicted. Staying alert, aware and educated about the pharmaceutical drugs you or a loved one is taking can help avoid misuse in the first place.