In Quincy, Mass., first responders carry kits that have saved more than 200 lives since 2010, and nationwide these kits have saved more than 10,000 lives.
Currently, Kentucky's first responders cannot carry such kits, and every year Kentuckians die because of this.
In North Carolina and 20 other states, laws have been enacted to encourage bystanders to call 911 when someone suffers a serious medical condition that in 2013 killed 16,235 Americans.
In the same life-or-death situation, many Kentuckians could not call 911 without fear of being prosecuted — and every year Kentuckians die because bystanders don't call.
If you find these facts disturbing, then hopefully you won't be quick to change your opinion after you learn that these deaths — 637 throughout Kentucky in 2013 — were due to overdoses of prescription opioid drugs and/or heroin.
Overdose deaths, from both illegal and prescription drugs, are a leading cause of death in the U.S., where each day 120 people die and another 6,748 are treated for overdose in emergency departments. Across the nation, drug overdoses now cause more deaths than vehicle accidents.
In Kentucky, the numbers are equally bleak. In 2013, 5,590 Kentucky residents were hospitalized for drug overdose, and 980 died of overdose (623 from opioids).
Opioids include illegal drugs, such as heroin, and some prescription pain medications, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Most opioid overdoses could be reversed, and many overdose deaths prevented, if Kentucky's first responders had access to a medicine now available to their counterparts in 28 other states.
The medicine, naloxone, marketed as Narcan, is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Used properly, it is up to 98 percent effective in reversing opioid overdoses, is not addictive and has no potential for abuse.
In Kentucky, there is now bipartisan support in our legislature to enact laws to address our overdose problems. While details vary from bill to bill, most agree that something needs to be done during this session.
Bluegrass.org supports legislators as they draft the legislation. We understand their desire to help save lives and assist people in receiving treatment and recovering from addiction, while deterring traffickers who prey on vulnerable people who become addicted. We respectfully request that when a bill emerges, it include the following items:
■ Expanded access to naloxone for use by emergency personnel beyond hospitals and paramedics.
■ Freedom from prosecution for individuals who are carrying paraphernalia and trace amounts of illicit drugs, and those who voluntarily disclose any hidden needles or other syringe paraphernalia on their persons, which will help protect first responders from "needle sticks."
■ Affirmative defense from prosecution for those possessing paraphernalia and small amounts of heroin, and who notify emergency personnel that an overdose might be occurring — and that this defense be extended to the person having the overdose.
We also request that our lawmakers consider that addicts need treatment, not jail time. Not only does incarcerating addicts contribute to overburdening our criminal justice system, it also costs Kentucky taxpayers as much as $30,000 a year to house one adult inmate. That same amount of money will treat up to 10 addicts for a year.
There are related proposals by legislators that also merit consideration, but passing a bill that contains at least the above items will be a good first step toward keeping Kentuckians alive, improving access to treatment and protecting our emergency personnel.