- Associated Press - Friday, April 11, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other lawmakers gathered Friday to show their support for a pair of new laws designed to prevent drug overdoses.

One of the new laws encourages drug users to report a friend who has overdosed.

Under the measure, calling 911 for such a companion would work in favor of people charged in drug cases because courts would consider it a mitigating circumstance.

The other bill stipulates that people acting in good faith are immune from liability in giving Naloxone to a person who is having an opiate-related overdose.

“We came up with two really good policies that will save lives,” Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D Salt Lake City, said at a ceremony on the laws.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted some type of a 911 drug immunity law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Under the other 2014 Utah measure, friends and family members who fear someone they know may overdose can get such a drug in a nasal spray or other form. The law also allows emergency workers and police to obtain such a substance.

To date, Utah doctors can prescribe Naloxone or similar drugs only for personal use, said the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D Salt Lake City.

Similar measures have been enacted in New Jersey and New York. Others such proposals are now pending in California, Kentucky, Louisiana and Vermont, among others.

The emergency reporting measure is currently in effect. The other bill takes effect on May 13.

In Utah, treatment for heroin addiction has risen sevenfold since 1993, according to figures from the Utah Department of Human Services.

The figures are based on admissions paid for by public funds. The numbers do not include people who paid for substance abuse treatment through private insurance.

Joel Millard, executive director of the Project Reality substance abuse treatment center in Salt Lake City, told The Associated Press last week that many Utah addicts start with prescription opiates like Oxycontin and move to heroin because it’s cheaper.

In recent years, the ages of those admitted into Millard’s clinic have been younger by an average of about five years, he said. About 1 in 5 admissions are now 18 to 23, he said.

Heroin is much more prevalent in northern Utah’s urban corridor than rural areas, officials say, because the denser neighborhoods make it easier to sell and buy.

Zach Baker, the executive director of the Harm Reduction Project, said he knows the importance of preventing overdoses. He nearly lost his former girlfriend to one years ago.

A few hours after the couple had argued, Baker reached a Salt Lake City motel to find her seemingly lifeless after friends said she had shot heroin and had also been drinking.

The group didn’t call 911 because they were also using illicit drugs, Baker said. He called for an ambulance and tried CPR in vain. Hospital workers revived her.

The new law will prevent similar situations, he said. “It’s just incredible.”

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