Narcan statistics needed

Judges in Blair and other area counties should look to Allegheny County for an additional way for dealing with people convicted of selling drugs.

A new approach introduced there might save lives without costing the criminal justice system even an extra penny.

Allegheny’s option also could work here.

In Allegheny, Judge Anthony Mariani has begun ordering convicted drug dealers to buy life-saving naloxone kits for the communities where they have sold illegal substances.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Mariani added the additional stipulation to two cases in recent days. One defendant was ordered to pay a total of $2,650 to three agencies in the Monongahela Valley, while another defendant had $1,250 tacked onto his sentence to be used for kits for an emergency medical services provider in another community.

The fines were based on $50 for each brick of heroin that the defendants were convicted of possessing with the intent to distribute.

Naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan, can halt an overdose by reversing effects of opiates such as heroin.

Naloxone is in use here. However, a full compilation of this region’s statistics – how often it’s been used and how many lives it has saved – apparently hasn’t yet been undertaken.

One certainty: Up to now, drug dealers who have put others’ lives in jeopardy here haven’t, upon conviction, been specifically required to share in the costs associated with naloxone’s use. Area judges would do well to look to Mariani’s action as a reasonable additional punishment option.

Although a novel sentence like Mariani’s by itself won’t necessarily reduce drug sales, that provision could impose a potential long-term financial obligation for which the defendant will be responsible, or face additional court action.

Regarding the two Allegheny sentences, Mariani made the naloxone fine a condition of the defendants’ probation, as well as consecutive to the time they’ll spend in prison.

That means that when they get out of prison they’ll have to begin paying the fine under guidelines approved by the court.

Hopefully, that payment will originate from gainful employment, not from additional drug sales.

The newspaper report quoted Mark Bergstrom, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, as saying imposition of such fines is within judges’ power. He said he wasn’t sure whether the law allowed the fines to be steered to specific agencies.

That point needs to be clarified. If not, it’s an issue for state lawmakers to address.

During the sentencing of one of the Allegheny defendants, Mariani said that ordering the defendant to provide funds for naloxone hopefully would help rehabilitate him and change his thinking.

Hopefully he’s right.

As for the local region, someone should embrace the task of compiling statistics related to Narcan – statistics such as the number of times it has been used here, how many lives it has saved and the financial numbers related to its availability and use.

Mariani’s new additional punishment is a refreshing option, although the reality remains that there’s no punishment harsh enough for drug dealers.