The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 9, 2014

Drug bills

— The Joint Committee on Health this week decided against releasing a bill to legalize medical marijuana, but will put forward a measure that would allow emergency personnel and police to administer treatment to overdose victims on the spot.

We think the committee got both of these calls right.

The second of the bills, a proposed Good Samaritan measure, would allow emergency services personnel to carry a supply and administer the drug Naloxone, known as an opiod antagonist.

In non-medical terms, it’s a drug that is given to people suffering from a drug overdose, such as heroin or some of the pharmaceutical painkillers that mimic the effects of heroin.

The measure also contains a clause which provides amnesty for drug users seeking medical care in cases of overdose.

In an emergency situation, that is the charitable thing to do. No one should be denied or decide against potentially life-saving emergency care out of fear of arrest.

We would hope that an overdose victim brought back from the edge of darkness would see the light, and seek longterm treatment for his or her addiction.

A key factor in this bill is that it would grant legal immunity to emergency personnel should they administer Naloxone, or if in their professional opinion, they decide against using the drug on an overdose victim.

These decisions are being made in second-by-second emergency situations. We think emergency personnel need to be able to make their best judgments at that time, without fearing legal consequences for their actions.

On the marijuana issue, we also think the Joint Committee on Health made the correct decision.

Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, has once again submitted a bill to make medical marijuana legal.

As we have said previously, we think legalizing medical marijuana sends the wrong message to West Virginians as we continue to fight against the scourge of addiction to prescription painkillers.

Manypenny says nobody’s ever overdosed on marijuana, which may or may not be the case. But driving while stoned most certainly has caused car accidents and almost just as certainly has cost someone their life.

“We need to refocus energy away from making prescription drug abuse a criminal offense and give people rehabilitation,” he said. “Marijuana can be a tool to fight other substance abuse problems.”

We are not experts in the field of drug rehabilitation.

But we doubt that many drug experts see substituting an addiction to one drug with an addiction to another one as the proper way to treat a drug user.

West Virginia’s drug problem is going to take a dedicated and sustained effort to overcome. Putting more illegal drugs on the street, even marijuana, could string out that process for years to come.