McAuliffe, Herring offer anti-heroin legislation

Virginia’s top two elected officials are trying to use the General Assembly session to bolster efforts to reduce a heroin epidemic plaguing the northern Shenandoah Valley and the rest of the state.

The proposals from Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, are focused on law enforcement issues and controlling the ability of people to obtain more prescription drugs than their medical conditions require.

Clarke County Sheriff Anthony “Tony” Roper was one of several members of law enforcement who served on a task force convened by McAuliffe to develop six legislative proposals now under consideration in Richmond.

Clarke County recorded a death from a heroin overdose in early January, one of three so far this year in the five-county jurisdiction of the Northern Virginia Regional Drug Task Force.

McAuliffe and Herring have both recommended a bill that would allow law enforcement officers and civilians to administer Narcan, a highly effective drug used to counter the effects of heroin on overdose victims. Narcan is administered by members of ambulance crews, who sometimes arrive at the scene of an overdose after police and civilians. The bill would also shield anyone who administers Narcan with good intentions during an emergency from being sued later.

“We’re kind of trying to protect people acting in good faith and as good Samaritans,” Roper said of the proposal.

The governor and attorney general are also backing other bills that are similar to each other. For example, both are backing bills that would make it easier for prosecutors to charge drug dealers with second-degree murder when the dealer’s product causes a death.

Prosecutors and law enforcement officials have sought the change in state law in response to a recent court decision that made it harder to connect drug dealers to an overdose victim’s death under some circumstances.

Michael Kelly, Herring’s director of communications, said the similarities between some of the proposals offered by Herring and McAuliffe won’t complicate their chances of passage in the General Assembly.

“I think they definitely complement each other,” Kelly said of both sets of proposals. “This is definitely an all hands on deck moment as far as combating the problem.”

Other McAuliffe-backed bills would:

• Make it easier to stop pharmacy customers who try to obtain unauthorized prescription drugs for themselves by claiming the prescription is for a hospice patient who, unknown to the pharmacist, has died.

• Ease the registration of prescribers and dispensers with the Prescription Monitoring Program, which tries to stop drug addicts from obtaining prescriptions from different doctors and pharmacists.

• Protect against improper use of data from the Prescription Monitoring Program during lawsuits.

• Create a study of drug diversion programs and their effectiveness.

Herring’s bills include a proposal that would try to encourage the reporting of drug overdoses by those who may be guilty of drug crimes deemed to be cases of minor possession or usage. Such individuals would be allowed to establish an affirmative defense for themselves by the reporting of an overdose. They would also have to remain on the scene of an overdose and identify themselves to first responders as the person who reported the overdose.

Roper called Herring’s so-called safe reporting bill a “pretty complicated” idea. Reporting a drug overdose would allow someone to cite their actions as an affirmative defense, “but that’s a step shy of giving people immunity” from prosecution, Roper said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com