Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks), chairman of the House Human Services Committee, led the committee in unanimously reporting out legislation, sponsored by himself and Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), to prevent overdose deaths by ensuring that police, firefighters, first responders and others have access to a drug that can stop an overdose in process.
"Most of the overdose deaths in our communities are considered to be accidental, and if there is a successful way, through Narcan, to help stop them from occurring, then we should allow that to happen and give our first responders the necessary resources," DiGirolamo said.
"The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman brought this problem to national attention," said Frankel. "But this is not about what's happening in New York. It's about what's happening in southwest Pennsylvania and the rest of the Commonwealth."
According to the legislators, "Some people call Narcan a 'miracle drug' because it can stop an overdose death immediately and bring a user back to full consciousness with no harmful effects."
According to the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASADAD), Narcan distribution programs are in use in 15 states and Washington, D.C. Massachusetts reports the reversal of 2,000 overdoses since the start of its program.
In the early months of this year, 22 people have died in western Pennsylvania, and six have overdosed in a single week in Bucks County.
The DiGirolamo-Frankel legislation also includes Good Samaritan provisions which provide immunity for people seeking assistance for those overdosing on dangerous drugs. This type of legislation is currently in place in 14 states and in Washington, D.C.
The legislation has the support of Prevention Point Pittsburgh, the statewide Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania Overdose Prevention Action Network, Sage's Army and parent groups organized in response to the epidemic.
“My son would be alive today if there were Narcan and a Good Samaritan law,” said Susan Kelly, the founder of the Western PA chapter of Grief Recovery After Substance Abuse Passing. Kelly lost her son to an overdose in 2005, when no call was made to 911 and he was delivered too late to a hospital.
“Those kids were just scared and didn't know what to do. If that law were in effect, he'd be alive. Not just him, but lots of kids," Kelly said.
Joining her in support of this legislation is Carmen Capozzi, who founded Sage's Army to educate about the broad impact of addiction shortly after his son died of an accidental overdose.
“It's amazing how many people are affected,” he said. “Eighteen hundred people reached out to me in 24 hours. Now it's up to 6,000. Parents are speaking up.”
Capozzi's son was with his girlfriend at the time of his death and she was too afraid to call the police. He believes the legislation being introduced might have saved his son's life. The legislation now moves to the full House for consideration.