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Is a felony charge the best way to deal with a tragic overdose?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from heroin-related overdoses have more than quadrupled since 2010. Nearly 13,000 people died from heroin overdoses in 2015. Despite these warnings, the use of heroin has increased in virtually every demographic group, including those traditionally not associated with heroin, including higher-income households and people with private insurance.

Also according to the CDC, prior misuse of prescription opioids is the single most important risk factor for someone to begin using heroin. In fact, three out of four new heroin users report having been addicted to prescription opioids before trying heroin.

Here in Tennessee, we're well aware that the opioid/opiate crisis is serious. People aren't playing around with party drugs. People are suffering and dying. Addiction isn't a choice; it's a disease.

That's one reason it's so frustrating to see another state press felony charges against an addict who overdosed on heroin when she was pregnant. Why is a disease process being treated with criminal charges?

Woman prescribed Narcan before overdose, paramedics didn't administer it

The 30-year-old pregnant mother had spent much of her pregnancy in jail on a shoplifting charge. The jail apparently knew she was an addict who was at risk for an opiate/opioid overdose, because when they released her at seven months pregnant, they prescribed her a dose of Narcan, which counteracts some of the deadly effects of overdose.

When she did, in fact, overdose a few days after being released, that Narcan was not given. The paramedics and police called to the scene didn't recognize the common symptoms of overdose. They misdiagnosed her with seizures from a possible closed head wound. Even the emergency room staff appears to have missed the symptoms. She wasn't treated for opiate overdose until a blood test had been given and its results were back.

Her infant was born the next day. Tragically, the girl is on life support and has "lasting injuries," according to a police complaint. The woman was charged with aggravated assault on an unborn child. She faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Overdosing while pregnant is hard to understand. It's also hard to understand how trained medical personnel could have missed the fact that she was suffering from an overdose. If they had, the child might not have been injured.

It's especially difficult to understand why police and prosecutors think that felony charges and imprisonment will promote any sort of positive outcome for her, her two daughters, or their father. Perhaps a serious course of drug treatment would do more good.

The woman remains in jail on a $500,000 bond.

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Hindman & Lanzon
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Knoxville, TN 37902

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