Take Two

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

A mom whose son died of an opioid overdose calls for greater access to antidote

by Alex Cohen with Sara Fay and Monica Bushman | Take Two

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Between 1999 and 2014, the CDC estimates that over 165 thousand people died from overdoses related to opioid-based medication such as OxyContin, Percocet, Hydrocodone, and Vicodin. Darren McCollester/Getty Images

There's been a lot of talk lately about the rise in opioid abuse and fatal overdoses in the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were nearly 28,000 fatalities due to opioids in 2014— more than any other year on record—  and at least half involved prescription drugs.

Here in California, a new bill advancing through the legislature aims to prevent such deaths among kids by allowing schools to stock an antidote called naloxone that's considered a lifesaver by many. 

The bill, from Republican Assemblyman Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley, was approved 68-2 in a vote by the state Assembly on Monday. It now moves on to the Senate. It wouldn't require schools to stock the antidote, but would make it legal for schools to keep the drug on hand and for schools nurses to administer it.

Aimee Dunkle, whose 20-year-old son died from a heroin overdose in 2012, is a supporter of the bill. Her son Ben had his first overdose at the age of 16 when some of his classmates brought in Xanax and Soma pills and shared them with him. 

"He went up to the nurse's office," Dunkle says, "I don't think it was a nurse who was there, I think it was a volunteer. And they didn't recognize the signs of an overdose. They called me and I came to the school and he'd been discharged. I found him lying on a bench outside the school."

Under the proposed bill, school nurses and volunteers would be trained to recognize the signs of an overdose and to administer the antidote drug.

At the time of her son's death, Dunkle says, she wasn't even aware that a drug like naloxone existed. And when she looked into it, she found out that it was difficult to obtain.

That's what led her to co-found a non-profit called The Solace Foundation of Orange County with Margie Fleitman, another mother who also lost a child to an accidental opioid overdose. Together they established the county's first and only naloxone distribution program.

Apart from increasing access to naloxone, Dunkle says there needs to be more awareness about the overprescription of opioid-based medication and about how easy it is to obtain heroin.

She's also made it her mission to educate people about calling 911 and the Good Samaritan law that protects people from prosecution for alerting authorities about someone who's experiencing an overdose.

Dunkle says that when her son overdosed for the final time, he was with three people in a car. 

"These three individuals were frightened and they failed to get my son help. And he was dragged out of the car basically and left in a parking lot," Dunkle says.

"I don't believe these were bad kids, they were just frightened kids, and had they been trained and had one of them carried naloxone, my son would have lived."

To listen to the full interview, click the blue player above.

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