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MBN to Keep Working With Coroners to Identify All Overdose Deaths

By Josh Mitchell

Corinth Today News Editor

The director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics is “disappointed” that legislation concerning the reporting of fatal drug overdoses died in a state Senate committee Tuesday.

The bill would have imposed fines and possible license suspensions for coroners and healthcare providers who failed to report overdose deaths to the MBN.

“We are disappointed that HB 1020 died in committee, but it will not curtail our efforts to continue to work with the coroners around the state to ensure that we are identifying all drug overdose deaths,” MBN Director John Dowdy said in a statement to Corinth Today on Wednesday morning.

House Bill 1020 passed the House this month with strong bipartisan support on a 108-8 vote but died in Senate committee Tuesday.

Coroners and healthcare providers would have been fined $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for a second offense. A third failure to report an overdose death would have carried a $5,000 fine and a one-year suspension of the applicable professional license. Officials could have regained their licenses if all fines and fees were paid and all other conditions were met.

The bill would have required coroners and health care providers to notify the MBN of overdose deaths within 48 business hours of receiving written confirmation of the death.

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 have been entitled to a hearing before MBN assessed any fines or penalties. The revenue from fines would have gone 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.

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 have also removed law enforcement as one of the required reporting parties. The bill also would have extended the 24-hour time period for notification to 48 business hours upon “receipt of written confirmation of the cause of death.”

Opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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