David Laws lost his daughter Laura to a drug overdose when she was 17. Laws helped get the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty law passed and wants to keep overdoses from happening to other families.
For Pickens County resident David Laws, opioid overdoses aren’t just statistics. Four years ago, Laws lost his daughter to an overdose and he has dedicated his life to keeping them from happening in the future.
His daughter Laura’s battle with drugs began like so many others who become substance abusers. She was prescribed a liquid opioid after she broke her jaw playing sports in high school. That was when she was 15. It was just two years later when she OD’d at a friend’s house. Laura had been in and out of recovery, including detox and a 30-day residential treatment program, but her addiction finally won.
“She was struggling with some other things, and I’m in long-term recovery so there’s hereditary stuff working against her, too,” Laws said, “but there’s a statistic that says if someone takes an opioid under the age of 21 they are 80 percent more likely to become addicted because the brain hasn’t fully developed. I’ve learned a lot in the last three years.”
Laws said his daughter had called from her friend’s house that night and asked for a ride home, but he was at work and didn’t go get her.
“She was just needing a ride, and that’s the personal cross I’m going to have to bear that I didn’t go,” he said. “But if the EMTs or her friend had naloxone she would still be here today.” Naloxone is an opioid overdose “antidote,” also called Narcan, which, if administered in time, reverses the effects of drugs like heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and others. At the time of her death almost four years ago it was not as widely available as it is today, a direct result of advocacy efforts of a grassroots group called Georgia Overdose Prevention.
After Laura’s death, Laws’ wife joined a grief support group where a co-founder of Georgia Overdose Prevention was also a member. Laws got involved and became a founding member himself and now sits on the board. He has also spoken to the CDC through the organization Shatterproof, a national non-profit dedicated to ending the devastation of addiction.
Laws has made it his mission to prevent overdoses from happening to other families, and Georgia Overdose Prevention has helped get laws passed at the state level that allow people to call if they witnesses an overdose. The law also allows family members and friends access to Naloxone.
Here are some statistics about opioid use and overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control:
•In 2014, almost two million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids.
•As many as 1 in 4 people who receive prescription opioids long term for non-cancer pain in primary care settings struggles with addiction.
•Every day, over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids.
•In the last 16 years, more than 183,000 Americans have died from overdoses related to prescription opioids.
•The death rate for death rate for fentanyl — the opioid more powerful than heroin and involved in the death of musician Prince — jumped 73 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to the CDC’s 2016 report.
Laws reminds people that opioid abuse is an epidemic that can hit every neighborhood, and he believes the fight against it has gained so much traction because it’s a problem that’s impacting more affluent families.
“Now there’s more talk and more money being thrown at it,” he said, “so it’s getting more attention.
Good Samaritan Law
This law, also called the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law, has two important elements for overdose prevention, Laws said. It was signed into law on April 24, 2014. Laws’ daughter passed away just a few months earlier on November 27, 2013.
“We lobbied 39 of the 40 legislative days that year,” Laws said. “I had my picture of Laura with me at the Gold Dome, and we passed out postcards to the legislators that had her picture on it. It was amazing to see that.”
According to Georgia Overdose Prevention, the law provides protection for people who call 911 and seek medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug or alcohol-related overdose. The caller and the victim cannot be arrested, charged, or prosecuted for small amounts of drugs, alcohol, or drug paraphernalia if the evidence was obtained as a result of seeking medical assistance.
The law also increases access to naloxone, also called Narcan. Physicians can prescribe naloxone to a family member, friend, or other person in a position to assist someone at risk of opioid overdose, as well as to “first responders, harm reduction organizations, and pain management clinics. Pharmacists are permitted to dispense naloxone under that prescription. The physician, pharmacist, and person administering naloxone are immune from civil, criminal, and professional liability as long as they act in good faith and in compliance with the applicable standard of care.”
According to Laws, since the bill passed, 147 law enforcement agencies now carry naloxone and there have been 1,021 opioid reversals in the state, not including hospitals or EMT reversals.
How to get a naloxone rescue kit and request speaker
Laws said his services are available to any group in the area who would like to learn more about the Good Samaritan Law or Narcan, including how to administer it to a person overdosing. He has also provided resources for anyone interested in receiving a kit.
You can also post a message on the Georgia 911 Good Samaritan Law Facebook page to request a kit, or send a request at www.georgiaoverdoseprevention.org/contact. Ask your doctor to write you a prescription for either EVZIO auto injector, intranasal naloxone or intramuscular naloxone. Any doctor may now legally write a naloxone prescription for any person who knows a person at risk of overdose, and some Georgia pharmacies are starting to fill naloxone prescriptions.
“I’d love to talk to anyone interested,” Laws said. “I don’t want this to happen to other families.”