CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate gave unanimous approval to a bill Tuesday that would speed up the time in which overdoses in West Virginia are to be reported to the state Office of Drug Control Policy.
SB 520 changes the reporting from the current requirement of once every three months to 72 hours after the overdose occurs.
Senator Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, a former U.S. Attorney in West Virginia’s Northern District, said the reporting can now be done in real time because of improvements in technology.
“This bill allows us to do something with this drug problem that we’ve never done before in this state and that is to leverage technology,” Ihlenfeld said.
A smart phone app was developed in 2016 and now states are beginning to use it, Ihlenfeld said. Specifically the bill requires the the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program to be used or other programs identified by the Office of Drug Control Policy in legislative rule.
Ihlenfeld said when he was a federal prosecutor it was frustrating not to be able to get ahead of the overdose issue.
“We never could really get our arms around where the problem was. We worked with DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) agents and high-ranking members of the federal government and we always struggled to get a clear picture on where the problem was, not only within our state but within our country,” Ihlenfeld said.
The bill would require health care providers, medical examiners, law enforcement agencies, emergency responders and hospital emergency rooms to report all overdoses within 72 hours of one occurring. The reporting on the app will include the date and time of the overdose, where it happened, if an overdose antagonist, like Naloxone, was used, whether the overdose was fatal or non-fatal, the gender and age of the person involved along with what drug was believed to have been used.
Ihlenfeld said speeding up the reporting time will save lives.
“This tool will help us to know what’s coming. So if there’s a bad batch in Baltimore, we know it may be on the way to Martinsburg or Charles Town or other parts of the eastern panhandle,” he said. “It allows us to really see the problem. If we can’t see the problem we can’t fix the problem. It allows us to collect data on a real-time basis. It allows law enforcement, prevention and recovery and the head of Drug Control Policy Office to really look at the problem and understand where it exists in all corners of our state.”
Ihlenfeld said it’s the technology that makes the difference.
“That’s one thing that the bad guys can’t do very well and it’s something we should be doing each and every day,” Ihlenfeld said.
According to the DHHR, 1009 fatal overdoses in West Virginia in 2017. The 2018 data is not yet available. The Office of Drug Control Policy currently does not track non-fatal overdoses. The bill would require that to take place.
The legislation heads to the House of Delegates for consideration. The regular legislative session ends March 9.
WV Legislative Photography, Photo by Will Price