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Bill Would Penalize Coroners for Unreported Overdose Deaths

By Josh Mitchell

Corinth Today News Editor

Coroners and healthcare providers would be fined and possibly have their professional licenses suspended if they failed to report overdose deaths to the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics under a bill that has passed the Mississippi House.

House Bill 1020 says coroners and health care providers would be required to notify the MBN of overdose deaths within 48 business hours of receiving written confirmation of the death.

Coroners and health care providers who failed to report overdose deaths to MBN would be fined $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for a second offense.

A third failure to report an overdose death would carry a $5,000 fine and a one-year suspension of the applicable professional license. Officials could regain their licenses if all fines and fees were paid and all other conditions were met.

The nation is in an opioid crisis, and tens of thousands of people die each year from overdoses, officials say. Local law enforcement has expressed concerns about potential rises in heroin and fentanyl.

Neighboring Alabama and Tennessee have seen increases in fentanyl and heroin. Alabama has also seen a return of black tar heroin.

Corinth and Alcorn County emergency responders have been equipped with the life-saving drug Naloxone to administer to opioid overdose victims.

Under the bill, coroners and healthcare providers suspected of not reporting overdose deaths would be entitled to a hearing before MBN assessed any fines or penalties. The revenue from fines would go to MBN.

The bill was sponsored by State Rep. Patricia Willis, R-Diamondhead, who is the chairwoman of the House Drug Policy Committee. State Rep. William Tracy Arnold, R-Booneville, also serves on that committee.

The bill easily passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 108-8 this month and now needs State Senate approval.

Alcorn County Coroner Jay Jones said he would need to review the bill before commenting on it.

Current state law says coroners, health care providers and law enforcement officials must notify MBN of overdose deaths within 24 hours. But the current law does not impose any penalties for failure to report fatal overdoses.

Other than providing penalties, the bill would also remove law enforcement as one of the required reporting parties. The new bill also extends the 24-hour time period for notification to 48 business hours upon “receipt of written confirmation of the cause of death.”

The bill is now in Division B of the Senate Judiciary Committee and can be read by clicking here.

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