Advocates: treat heroin overdose with treatment rather than jail

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Carol LeMay got to know Eric Hudson about six months ago when she helped get him into a facility for help with heroin addiction.

“He also went to sober living house. He had a slip up. When that happened he was labeled a chronic relapser," LeMay said.

Her worst fears were realized Sunday at a Hickory Hill gas station. Police said Hudson asked an employee to use the restroom. The employee told him the restroom was broken. Police said he then trespassed into the broken bathroom stall and overdosed on heroin. The gas station owners called police.

When police arrived, they revived him with Narcan and then took him away in handcuffs. They charged him with public intoxication, trespassing and possession of drug paraphernalia.

“When we arrest them, all we’re doing is adding more fines to where they’re digging the hole deeper. Let’s spend time getting the dealers off the street and getting addicts some help,” LeMay said.

In fact, addiction experts agree it should be treated as a medical problem rather than a crime. The University of Tennessee Health Science Center's College of Medicine Executive Dean David Stern said the director of the center for addiction on campus uses this approach.

“He views addiction as a medical problem," he said of Dr. Daniel Sumrok. "He doesn’t view it as a stigma, like 'you’re a weak person because you have a problem with substance use disorder.'"

LeMay hoped others would adopt that attitude; maybe lawmakers will hear her message and change how law enforcement has to react to people in need, like Hudson.