Toni Torsch

Toni Torsch, whose son Dan, 24, died of a heroin overdose, holds a locket she wears which holds pictures of the two of them. File Photo (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun / December 7, 2012)

Critics of Naloxone programs say the drug could encourage more drug use by erasing the fear of overdosing. But health officials dismiss that idea. Family members of addicts said it isn't fear of overdosing that prevents drug use.

"That couldn't be further from the truth," said Toni Torsch.

The Perry Hall woman found her son Dan overdosing on heroin in his bedroom in 2010.

"It's such a demon, heroin, and the prescription pain killers. The physical addiction is just overwhelming," Torsch said. "They're going to continue to use until they get treatment, not because they have an antidote sitting in the drawer."

By the time paramedics arrived at her home, Dan was already gone.

To help deal with her loss, Torsch started a local chapter of the Grief Recovery After Substance Passing support group for family members of addicts.

Then, in the summer of 2011, Torsch and her husband, Carl, came upon a television documentary that showed parents of addicts being supplied a drug called Naloxone, which they could give to their overdosing teens or adult children to yank them back from the edge of death.

"I started questioning, 'Why isn't that here?'" Torsch said. She soon began to push for greater access to the drug.

Bette Ann Tassone of Bel Air, whose daughter Jessica died of a heroin overdose last year, said every parent in the GRASP group with a living child who is an addict wants a Naloxone prescription. She wishes she'd had one, too.

"It would just give them such peace of mind to have this in their possession," she said.

After hearing Torsch advocate for Naloxone prescriptions, Tassone took the message to her friend, Sen. Katherine Klausmeier.

Klausmeier introduced the bill in the Senate. Del. Eric Bromwell filed the House version.

"It's rare to have sort of a new idea come to Annapolis that gains momentum as fast as it did," Bromwell said.

Klausmeier had known Tassone's daughter. She met Torsch last year and went to a GRASP meeting, where the stories she heard brought her to tears.

Klausmeier praised the parents for pushing her and for talking to other legislators and gaining their support.

Kirk Fletcher says he is not using any illegal substances, has no desire to go back to "running the streets, looking to get high," and doesn't believe he is in "any kind of jeopardy of" overdosing.

Still, his depression persists, and he supports his mother in her desire to have Naloxone on hand — just in case.

"I believe that it would give her a peace of mind," he said. "That's fine with me."

Sharfstein said his department is looking at Naloxone prescriptions as just one tool in a much broader approach — including the identification of overprescriptions of painkillers — to address a major health problem in Maryland.

Overdoses in the state spiked in the first half of 2012, the most recent period for which numbers were available.

Torsch called the new legislation "a bittersweet victory."

"You can't help as a parent who's lost a child but to think, 'If only...'" she said. "I guess I shouldn't let my mind go there, because it puts me in a dark place. But I know this will save lives."

krector@baltsun.com

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