New Tennessee Drunk Driving Law to Support Minors of Victims Killed

tennessee drunk driving lawIn what may be a first in America, a new proposed Tennessee drunk driving law creates a unique — and understandable — penalty for offenders. The goal of the bill is to provide child support for any children of the victim(s) killed due to drunk driving.

summary of the legislation states that “if a defendant is convicted of vehicular homicide due to intoxication or aggravated vehicular homicide and the victim of the offense was the parent of a minor child,” then the court will make the defendant pay “restitution in the form of child maintenance to each of the victim’s children.”

Tennessee Drunk Driving Law Is Born Out of Tragedy 

child supportIn 2019, Officer Nicholas Galinger, a rookie police officer of the Chattanooga Police Department, was killed by a drunk driver while inspecting a manhole cover. The driver was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Tragically, the 38-year-old Officer Galinger left behind three children. The bill, officially known as HB 1834, was named after the officer’s children: Ethan’s, Hailey’s, and Bentley’s Law.

In the Tennessee drunk driving law, the offender pays child support to the victim’s children until the minor turns 18 years of age. Two factors determine the amount of the payments.

First, the compensation depends on the financial needs and available resources of the minors and the surviving parent or guardian. If the minor is under the custody of the state, the offender provides payment to the Department of Children’s Services.

Secondly, like traditional child support, the standard of living that the minor is accustomed to helps determine the amount to be paid.

The penalty for drunk driving will likely also include incarceration. If the person is unable to pay while incarcerated, the offender has one year after prison release to begin making payments for child support.

Drunk Driving Penalties, Facts, and Figures

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk-driving crashes killed approximately 28 people every day in 2019. In the year Officer Galinger was killed, deaths due to drunk driving actually hit an all-time low in 2019. That all-time low was still 10,142 victims, which is one person killed by drunk driving every 52 minutes.

Throughout America, it’s illegal to drive a vehicle over a .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). At around this level, the crash risk increases dramatically. However, in 2019, alcohol-related crashes where the driver had a BAC between .01 to .07 still resulted in 1,775 people killed. Even small amounts of alcohol when driving can affect the driver’s reaction speed and judgment.

Typical Effects of Alcohol on Driving at Increased BAC Levels

Although everyone is different, with varying alcohol tolerances, research shows predictable effects on driving performance in correlation to BAC levels.

  • .02: The person’s ability to perform two tasks at the same time declines. This BAC level affects visual function, resulting in a decline in the driver’s ability to track moving objects.
  • .05: The driver’s ability to respond to emergency driving situations declines, as their coordination and ability to steer effectively declines.
  • .08: This BAC level— and legal threshold — impairs the driver’s visual perception. The driver may find it harder to concentrate on the road and their speed.
  • .10: At this level, the driver’s abilities to maintain lane position and brake effectively decline.
  • .15: This BAC level impairs the driver’s informational processing of visual and auditory cues. They may find it difficult to control the vehicle and perform normal driving tasks.

Needless to say, these effects of alcohol on a person’s driving ability are the reasons that drunk driving offenses carry a stiff penalty. Even first-time offenders may pay up to $10,000 in legal fees and fines. Also, if that person is charged with a vehicular homicide due to drunk driving, a judge can sentence the defendant to life in prison.

How To Avoid Drunk Driving Penalties and Risks

 driving safetyThe easiest way to avoid any risks of drunk driving for yourself or another person is to simply make a plan.

  1. Plan for a safe way home before you start drinking.
  2. Don’t let others drink and drive. Take their keys if necessary and arrange a safe ride home for them.
  3. If you drink, don’t drink for any reason. Call a friend, taxi, or ride-hailing service. It is much cheaper than a DUI conviction.
  4. If you’re hosting others, don’t let your guests drink and drive. In some cases, you could be held liable.
  5. Whenever you’re driving, wear a seatbelt. If you’re hit by an impaired driver, it’s most likely a life-saving decision.

While Ethan’s, Hailey’s, and Bentley’s Law is a nuanced law that will undoubtedly help financially support victims of drunk driving, the true cost is written into the law’s title. Ethan, Hailey, and Bentley will still grow up without their father — a cost that’s unable to be repaid.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a substance use disorder, help is available. Call 800-662-HELP (4357) (Info iconWho Answers?) today to speak with a treatment specialist.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

Funding for Overdose Prevention and Addiction Treatment Programs, HHS Announces

capital building for opioid laws

From 1999 to 2019, the rate of overdose deaths increased by over 250 percent. Deaths from synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, increased 50-fold over this same period.

Remember, the opioid crisis was an epidemic even before the world grappled with COVID-19.

From April 2020 to April 2021, the first year of the pandemic, more than 100,000 individuals in the U.S. died from a drug overdose — the highest annual death rate.

“Each day, we’re losing enough people to fill a Boeing 757 passenger jet,” Dr. Rahul Gupta, who directs the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told reporters in December.

Now, two initiatives included in the American Rescue Plan, which involves $25.6 million in grants, will try to combat the worsening opioid crisis.

Failed Overdose Prevention Policies During COVID-19 Lockdown

woman isolated during COVIDWhen the U.S. went into lockdown once the pandemic began, many individuals were quickly cut off from their recovery resources. This included access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to treat opioid dependency.

MAT is a harm reduction treatment approach that utilizes medications, such as Suboxone and methadone, to alleviate opioid cravings. Unfortunately, access to these programs became problematic for many.

Some programs did adapt to the lockdown. Telemedicine and take-home medication regimens became options for many — but not for everyone.

Some individuals in MAT found telemedicine (versus in-person counseling) ineffective and impersonal. Others had a hard time adjusting to the schedules of take-home medications.

For many in recovery, a dependable schedule can be vital to day-to-day stability. As the pandemic upended everyone’s life, some in recovery found adjusting to changing treatment schedules difficult.

Isolation can also be a devastating situation for those struggling with substance use.

Another compounding issue was the distribution — or lack thereof — of naloxone. Naloxone is an effective overdose prevention medication. The opioid agonist reverses the physical effects of opioids and stimulates breathing. Many deaths associated with opioid overdoses involve respiratory depression, or slow and ineffective breathing.

Naloxone became harder to access during the pandemic. With the rise of fentanyl overdoses, naloxone has been one of the best tools to combat powerful (and often deadly) synthetic opioids, which continue to fuel death tolls.

 Implementing an Effective Overdose Prevention Strategy

 “Every five minutes someone in our nation dies from an overdose. This is unacceptable,” said Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services. “At HHS, we are committed to addressing the overdose crisis, and one of the ways we’re doing this is by expanding access to medication-assisted treatment and other effective, evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies.”

At President Biden’s recent State of the Union Address, he announced the need for new approaches and additional resources to combat the opioid epidemic. The initiatives introduced a total $25.6 million through two main grants:

  • Strategic Prevention Framework for Prescription Drugs (SPF Rx) provides $3 million in funds to combat overprescribing, counterfeit online prescriptions, and medication sharing. The funds will be shared over 5 years among up to 6 grantees.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment – Prescription Drug and Opioid Addiction (MAT-PDOA) provides $22.6 million for up to 30 grantees. The initiative will focus solely on expanding access to opioid use disorder medication (MOUD), such as naloxone, Suboxone, and methadone.

Overall, the initiatives expand on the Access to Emergency Opioid Antagonist Act, which includes:

  • Making naloxone available over the counter
  • Expanding syringe exchange services
  • Allowing states to purchase fentanyl test trips

Overdose Prevention Strategy and Federal Spending

The recently announced $25.6 million grant is part of the overall 2022 Health and Human Services budget that focuses on the department’s Overdose Prevention Strategy. Focusing on mental and behavioral health infrastructure, this $11.2 billion proposed budget is a 54 percent increase from last year’s budget.

The Overdose Prevention Strategy features 4 main approaches to reducing the number of overdose deaths:

  • Primary Prevention focuses on strategic prevention and intervention among high-risk individuals and populations. The Strategic Prevention Framework for Prescription Drugs grant focuses almost solely on primary prevention.
  • Evidence-Based Treatment includes reducing barriers to quality treatment among individuals seeking professional help. This also addresses cultural barriers to treatment and studies the efficacy of various treatment approaches.
  • Harm Reduction is the main focus of the Medication-Assisted Treatment – Prescription Drug and Opioid Addiction grant. This includes expanding access to opioid use disorder medications, needle exchanges, fentanyl testing strips, and other harm reduction measures.
  • Recovery Support involves ensuring individuals have access to ongoing recovery support services once they’ve completed treatment. This part of the Overdose Prevention Strategy includes improving housing and employment support for those in recovery.

Learning from Past Mistakes and Deadly Consequences

overdose prevention medicationIn 2017, the Presidential Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis issued 56 recommendations to combat the increasing overdose deaths in the U.S. According to those involved, these recommendations were largely ignored by the administration.

“If we don’t stop the pipeline into substance use, if we don’t promote prevention, we are going to have an open-ended catastrophe that goes on for generations,” Harvard Medical School’s Bertha Madras, who worked on the commission, warned.

“We can’t treat our way out of this. We can’t arrest our way out of this. We can’t prevent our way out of this. We have to do all three,” Madras said. “We need a balanced policy to reduce supply and reduce demand.”

Needless to say, the consequences of ignoring policy recommendations are reflected by the 2020 death toll of drug overdoses. However, this latest HHS grant by the current administration may be a bold step in the right direction.

Some critics contend that harm reduction measures are not the key to combating drug addiction. This is correct. Harm reduction addresses the needs of those already struggling with addiction.

However, harm reduction measures may supply the best available tools for overdose prevention.

Ready to talk to a treatment specialist? Contact us today at 800-662-HELP (4357) (Info iconWho Answers?) to learn about our flexible treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction.


Shortage of Medications for Opioid Overdoses in U.S., Study Finds

naloxone wellness clinic

Over 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2021—most from prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl. That record number was 28.5 percent more overdoses than in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Sadly, many of these overdoses may’ve been preventable. A recently released study found that almost all states are currently experiencing a shortage of naloxone—the very drug needed to combat last year’s (and this year’s) overdose epidemic.

Naloxone is a highly effective medication for opioid overdoses. The medication quickly reverses the effects of opioids and helps the victim breathe. Available through a single-dose injection or a nasal spray, naloxone is the frontline antidote for bystanders, first responders, and harm reduction organizations.

According to data collected in 2017, researchers found state-level naloxone shortages in nearly every state across the country. Today, many distribution centers at critical access points still struggle to maintain adequate supplies.

Medications for Opioid Overdoses Absolutely Reduce Death Rates

pharmacy for medicationsTo quantify a shortage of naloxone, the study set the following goal: States should have enough naloxone available to avert 80 percent of witnessed overdose deaths.

According to the CDC, someone else is present in nearly 40 percent of overdose deaths. A bystander with naloxone can likely reverse a fatal overdose. Naloxone is highly effective and has saved tens of thousands of lives.

The study also measured the amount of naloxone a state may require based on the type of dominant drug epidemic the state was experiencing. In other words, the amount of naloxone that was required depended on the type of drug. Researchers included three types of epidemics:

  • Prescription opioids (Oxycontin, Percocet) epidemics had the lowest probability of naloxone use.
  • Heroin epidemics had a moderate likelihood of naloxone use by a bystander.
  • Fentanyl epidemics had the highest probability of someone administering naloxone during an overdose.

Not surprisingly, the study concluded that medications for drug overdoses were needed the most in areas (or states) suffering from a fentanyl epidemic. Unfortunately, fentanyl-caused overdose deaths have exploded since 2017.

Synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl) accounted for 56,516 deaths in 2020. That’s out of 91,799 drug overdose deaths—in total—reported in 2020. It’s common sense that more naloxone is required where there’s a fentanyl epidemic.

Where Do People Find Naloxone for Opioid Overdoses?

The study revealed that distribution and access points, especially among community-based locations, were typically the harm reduction organizations short of naloxone.

“The extent of naloxone distribution, especially through community-based programs and pharmacy-initiated access points, warrants substantial expansion in nearly every US state,” researchers wrote.

Historically, naloxone has been available at four types of distribution centers:

  • Medical providers: In large part, prescriptions are no longer necessary to access naloxone. However, some may be more comfortable receiving the medication through a medical professional.
  • Community-Based Programs: These programs include wellness clinics, outpatient centers, naloxone distribution centers, and other harm reduction initiatives.
  • Pharmacies: Most major pharmacy chains now provide naloxone for free. The medication can be provided through a walk-in request.
  • Needle Exchanges: These harm reduction initiatives often also distribute naloxone, along with clean needles, safe-sex kits, and other harm reduction supplies.

In the study, researchers found that community- and pharmacy-based access points were the most crucial to reducing overdose deaths.

In recent developments, cities such as New York City and Philadelphia have also started to place naloxone vending machines at public locations. The pilot programs are designed to provide anonymity and strategic access in vulnerable neighborhoods.

“Our models indicate that community-based and pharmacy-initiated naloxone distribution pathways have a larger public health effect in terms of deaths averted and potential for naloxone intervention than does an approach reliant only on prescriber-based naloxone access,” researchers stated.

Pfizer’s Naloxone Manufacturing Problems in 2021

While the study focused on distribution channels and quantifying ‘how much naloxone is actually enough’, Pfizer most likely also played a role in the current shortage of naloxone. Last April, Pfizer’s stopped production of single-dose injectable naloxone due to manufacturing issues.

Due to their ease of use, this single-dose form of medication for opioid overdoses was particularly popular among community-based clinics. The Opioid Safety and Naloxone Network Buyer’s Club, a group of more than 100 harm reduction programs, reported that the shortage impacted clinics across the country. Pfizer provided the naloxone to the buyer’s club at a discounted price.

Without the usual availability to the buyer’s club—especially during a year with record overdose deaths—many programs had to choose which community locations to supply. Also, the most likely clinics to experience dangerous shortages are those with limited funding.

According to the 2017 study, these types of access points were the most effective and strategic in combating overdose deaths.

Medications for Overdoses are Vital to Combat the Opioid Crisis

online phone searchFentanyl is rapidly becoming more prevalent throughout the country. Due to its potency, cheap price, and availability, drug dealers are indiscriminately lacing a range of drugs with fentanyl. Many times, fentanyl is used in fake prescription pills—a particularly deadly situation.

Medications for opioid overdoses are the most effective way to save lives, especially for someone witnessing an overdose. Without effective distribution channels and manufacturing plans, the rise of fentanyl-caused overdose deaths will tragically continue to rise.

While shortages may occur, it may be life-saving to perform a little detective work to locate a distribution center with naloxone. Many online resources with geographical directories are now available to help someone find a clinic, pharmacy, or needle exchange with naloxone.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a substance use disorder, help is available. Call 800-662-HELP (4357) (Info iconWho Answers?) today to speak with a treatment specialist.

Harm Reduction Vending Machines Hit New York City

New York City skyline

Health officials in New York City will soon install 10 “public health vending machines” to help combat drug overdoses. Considered a harm reduction measure, the vending machines will dispense naloxone—an effective anti-overdose medication—and clean syringes. They will also provide essential toiletries and safe-sex kits.

The 10 vending machines will be disbursed through neighborhoods in all five boroughs, with strategic placement in areas plagued by overdose cases.

Every four hours there’s an overdose here,” Michael McRae, deputy commissioner of the city’s health department, said. “This is something that doesn’t allow for people to die every hour.”

This initiative reflects increasing acceptance—among both clinicians and health officials–of harm reduction approaches. “This is really about expanding access to health and wellness services,” Dr. McRae added.

What is the Goal of a Harm Reduction Approach?

naloxone vending machineThe National Harm Reduction Coalition defines harm reduction as “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use.”

Needle exchange programs and naloxone through community-based organizations are both examples of harm reduction measures. And the National Harm Reduction Coalition describes the Stages of Change goals of harm reduction as follows:

  • Health and Dignity: The quality of individual and community life through harm reduction services.
  • Participant Centered Services: Nonjudgmental and non-coercive provisions of services and resources.
  • Participant Involvement: A real voice for individuals and communities in the creation of programs and policies.
  • Participant Autonomy: A belief that participants are the primary agents of change.
  • Sociocultural Factors: A recognition that social inequalities affect a person’s capacity to receive treatment.
  • Pragmatism and Realism: Not an attempt to minimize or ignore the danger associated with drug use.

The Goals of NYC’s Naloxone Vending Machine Plan

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. topped 100,000 overdose deaths in 2021. This was a 28.5 percent increase in overdose deaths during 2020. The main goal of the vending machine plan is to save lives by offering both sterile syringes and naloxone for free.

New York City’s most notable harm reduction measure is its needle exchange programs. In general, these syringe services programs (SSP) typical provide both services and supplies:

  • Sterile needles and syringes
  • A safe place for needle disposal
  • Referrals to substance use disorder treatment programs
  • Education about overdose prevention and safer injection practices
  • Screenings for sexually transmitted diseases
  • Hepatitis vaccinations
  • Abscess and wound care
  • Referrals to community-based medical, mental, social services

The CDC states that individuals who use an SSP while in active addiction are 5 times more likely to enter treatment than someone who doesn’t use an SSP.

While states have increasingly accepted needle exchanges as an effective strategy, the programs do have their limitations. For example, individuals may be wary to participate in an organized needle exchange program. They may also be hesitant to speak to a pharmacist face-to-face to receive naloxone.

Vending machines provide harm reduction supplies in complete anonymity. They also offer these services 24/7, while community-based programs and pharmacies are closed. Harm reduction programs are designed to meet someone where they are in their addiction.

The vending machines embody this approach to care in its simple implementation. Day or night, a person can access these harm reduction services.

Along with saving lives and mitigating the spread of disease, New York City’s $730,000 vending machine program may also save the city money. The machines can both reduce the cost of hospitalizations and the cost of staffing community clinics or needle exchanges.

Vending Machine Naloxone as a Harm Reduction Measure

Overall, the main goal of New York City’s vending machine program is to reduce the number of overdoses in the city. Mirroring the rest of the U.S., New York City recorded 2,062 overdose deaths in 2020. That’s 500 more overdose deaths than the previous year.

Naloxone reverses an opioid overdose by blocking the effects of the drug and restoring breathing. It typically takes between 2 and 3 minutes for naloxone to work. If the person does not wake up after 3 minutes, the bystander should administer another dose of naloxone.

A nationwide study revealed that opioid overdose deaths decreased by approximately 14 percent in states that enacted laws that provided easier access to naloxone.

Needle exchange vending machines have been commonly used in Europe and Asia for years with positive outcomes. However, these machines only dispense clean needles. Vending machines distributing naloxone are—so far—an American innovation.

Vending machines with naloxone are beginning to pop up throughout the U.S. In February, Philadelphia installed a naloxone vending machine in a public library. In January, the Clark Memorial Health hospital of Jeffersonville, Indiana placed a vending machine outside. The vending machine will be one of 19 naloxone-distributing machines installed throughout Indiana in 2022.

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is already available for free through many pharmacies. But as previously stated, some individuals may be hesitant to receive naloxone through a pharmacy or community clinic.

The Politics and Future of Harm Reduction Services

harm reduction application Harm reduction approaches can be a controversial topic in the recovery industry. Some clinicians and treatment providers contend that abstinence is the only solution to problematic substance use. Others believe that these methods are a matter of public health, as well as a viable treatment approach.

Regardless, harm reduction measures have quickly become more accepted among politicians and public health officials. In 2021, the Biden Administration announced plans to allocate $30 million in grants to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to fund harm reduction initiatives.

“The reality is, evidence-based harm reduction services are out of reach for far too many people,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, the National Drug Control Policy Director. To ensure harm reduction measures begin to stay within reach, other cities may soon implement similar harm reduction vending machines like New York City’s. Time (and outcomes) will tell.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a substance use disorder, help is available. Call 800-662-HELP (4357) (Info iconWho Answers?) today to speak with a treatment specialist.

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