NC DA proposes addicts refusing treatment after OD reversal be involuntarily committed

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) — An unsettling pattern has emerged out of the nation’s prescription opioid and heroin addiction epidemic: addicts revived from an overdose often refuse treatment, only to overdose again.

A Wilmington woman who died from an overdose of heroin is one of the most recent examples of the disturbing trend.

According to a police report, the woman received a dose of Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, the night before her death. Once revived, she refused treatment and allegedly had more heroin delivered to her that night, the report states. The next day, police found her dead on her bedroom floor from a heroin overdose.

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New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David said her story illustrates the need for an alternative to the current “treat and release” method.

“This is not an unfamiliar dynamic,” David said. “It’s tragic, it’s sad, but we are powerless to do much in the criminal justice system when we’re at these scenes with folks who’ve just been brought back to life with Narcan. In fact, the criminal laws now say that they and the people who called on their behalf enjoy immunity from prosecution because they reached out for help.”

Though there are currently legal limitations, David has proposed having addicts who refused treatment after being revived from an overdose be involuntarily committed.

“We’re all talking about the same thing: what can we do either from a policy standpoint, a practice standpoint, or a law change standpoint that might allow us to more effectively deal with this issue,” David said.

Asked where involuntary commitments would be housed, David said one solution has been made possible through “justice reinvestment,” which identifies drug offenders and puts them in a community-based alternative to treat them rather than incarcerate them.

Through this initiative, the state has cut down on its prison population by nearly 10 percent, and even closed entire facilities, David said. He continued those resources could be used to house addicts.

“I’ve always looked at jail and prison beds as a scarce resource, and this is maybe utilizing it in a different way,” David said. “Not because we believe people need to be punished, so much as they need protecting – protecting from themselves, but also we should be protected from them while they break into our cars and homes to support their habit, and while they take to the roads to do whatever they’re going to do next.”

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