Judge urges changes to state drug laws

Saying “Heroin is back, and it’s cheap,” Washoe Municipal Court Judge Dorothy Nash Holmes on Thursday called for changes in Nevada drug laws to prevent overdose deaths.

She told the Commission on the Administration of Justice that rising levels of addiction also highlight the need for state law to mandate that judges consider drug and alcohol issues when deciding child-custody battles.

She said there were 7,572 drug-induced deaths in Nevada between 2000 and 2012 and that the No. 1 cause of death in 17 states, including Nevada, is prescription-drug abuse.

Drug court can’t treat addicts if they die of an overdose, Holmes said.

The number of opioid-based prescriptions for pain, she said, have quadrupled in the past 30 years. When doctors cut people off, Holmes said, they sometimes turn to the streets for cheap heroin, which is related to drugs such as Oxycontin.

“It only costs 15 bucks to get a good high on heroin,” she said.

Holmes, who sits in charge of drug court every Wednesday in Washoe County, said one of the common scenarios involves addicts who are off the drug long enough to greatly reduce their tolerance, then fall off the wagon.

“They go back one more time and they try to take the amount they used to take, and it kills them,” she said.

For those around addicts, she said, a change in Nevada law to allow non-medical personnel access to the drug Naloxone — sold as Narcan — would save numerous lives. That drug, which has been available by prescription for 40 years, she said, reverses respiratory and nervous system failure caused by heroin and other opioids within two minutes, is nonaddictive and is cheap — $15 for a kit with two doses.

She compared it to the Epipens approved for consumer use by the 2013 Legislature. Those self-injectable pens can almost immediately reverse the effects of potentially fatal allergic reactions from foods such as peanuts or bee stings and are now required at every public school in the state.

Her other issue Thursday was to push for an addition to state law to require that evidence of drug or alcohol abuse be added to the list of factors judges must consider in deciding the best interest of a child in custody battles. Existing law only mentions the mental and physical health of the parents.

Holmes received immediate support for those changes from commission members Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Parole Board Chairman Connie Bisbee. Masto said her office has been looking into similar legislation for the 2015 Legislature.

Bisbee pointed out that 87 percent of the nation’s prison population has a drug or alcohol problem.

“This is where we can truly effect change,” she said.


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