Survive an Overdose, Go to Jail?

By Victoria Kim 10/12/17

The alderman candidate proposes "getting addicts off the street" by giving jail time to people whose overdoses have been reversed with naloxone.

Local Candidate Proposes Locking Up OD Survivors with '30-60-90 Plan'
Bob O'Sullivan's 30-60-90 Plan

A candidate for alderman in Manchester, New Hampshire, is running on a proposal to lock up drug overdose survivors.

Bob O’Sullivan’s “30-60-90 Plan”—outlined in a pamphlet recently mailed out to potential constituents in Ward 2—aims to “get addicts off the street” and stop the cycle of “revive and release.” 

His plan states that a person who is revived with the opioid OD antidote naloxone (aka Narcan) will get 30 days in jail for the first overdose. For the second overdose, 60 days. For the third, 90 days in jail.

O’Sullivan is troubled by the fact that some people follow a pattern of repeat overdose and revival. The Fix’s Tessie Castillo covered this debate in her November 2016 article “Should We Limit How Many Times Someone Is Saved with Naloxone?

Castillo interviewed Mike Page of Wilmington, North Carolina, who has a history of heroin addiction but is now in recovery. “It’s unfortunate that it took as many times as it did for me to change my life but that is the reality of this condition,” he said to The Fix. “For some people, one shot [of naloxone] is all they need. For others it takes multiple opportunities. Who are we to decide how many chances are enough?”

But people like O’Sullivan aren’t convinced the current approach to solving the drug crisis and rising ODs is the right one. “If we don’t make a change, then nothing changes. We need to change the way we’re looking at this crisis,” said the candidate.

O’Sullivan says a “community intervention” is needed—but that current efforts aren’t hitting the mark. “Right now, the plan is revive and release. We revive these poor souls that are addicted to these terrible opioids. If Narcan is administered, they’re brought to the hospital and they’re released, and unless they get help, they’re going to continue to make poor choices.”

The candidate claims that there’s a free unit with 96 beds at the Valley Street Jail that could potentially receive OD survivors if his proposal is implemented. There, the inmates will have the opportunity to “detox” under medical supervision and receive counseling, he said.

Other municipalities, like Colerain township in Ohio, have tried a different approach to stop the cycle of drug use and overdose: post-naloxone outreach programs that try and connect “with people who have recently overdosed to offer resources on overdose prevention” and mental health and addiction treatment services.

Addiction advocate Ryan Hampton took to Facebook to denounce the proposal. "I am outraged and disgusted by Bob O’Sullivan’s plan to combat the opioid crisis. He’s proposing to lock us all up through his 30-60-90 day plan when someone overdoses," he wrote. "Legislation like this will set a dangerous precedent nationwide. For what it costs to send someone to jail, we could certainly pay for treatment. Sorry Bob—this has been tried in the past...and it doesn’t work."

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr