BETHESDA - As the country grapples with an ongoing fentanyl crisis, Maryland Governor Wes Moore has signed a first-of-its-kind bill into law that aims to save lives.
It would require hospitals to test for fentanyl during a toxicology report. The bill is known as the Josh Siems Act.
Josh died last year from a fentanyl overdose on his 31st birthday, but the drug never showed up in his system because some hospitals aren’t testing for it. Now, in just a few short months, that will all change.
Josh Siems spent hours in the hospital after an apparent overdose with his girlfriend Melanie Yates by his side.
"The doctors eventually came in and said the swelling in his brain would be too much and that he wouldn’t survive it," said Yates.
Doctors say fentanyl didn’t show up in Josh’s system, but Yates says that’s because he was never tested for it. Now just seven months after his death a grieving girlfriend is turning her loss into law.
"This frankly should not have been possible to get through how it did and how quickly it did," said Yates. "Now his name is law and I think this law will help people live and get a second chance at life."
Right now, most hospitals only test for what is known as the "Federal Five" which consists of marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, PCP and opiates. Moving forward, hospitals in Maryland will have to screen for fentanyl in patients with a known or suspected overdose.
State delegate Joe Vogel sponsored the bill and says it also goes a step further, requiring hospitals to report that data to the state.
"I went to a hospital not far from here in Montgomery County," he said. "They have already seen an uptick in positive fentanyl test results as a result of testing for fentanyl."
The new law will be the first in the region and second in the country, behind California. There is hope it could also help address a bigger problem.
"Patients with suspected drug overdoses only five percent of them are being tested for fentanyl in hospitals and of those tests close to 50 percent are coming back positive which means we are significantly undercounting fentanyl cases in our state and really across the country," said Vogel.
This could lead to a clearer picture on the number of overdose deaths directly related to fentanyl.
"It is going to be devastating to see that uptick but we have to know the truth," Vogel added. "We have to know just how serious this crisis is and we have to have that accurate timely data from across the state."
With fentanyl being the leading cause of overdose deaths in the state of Maryland, Yates hopes her partner’s death won’t be in vain.
"I really just think that he knew he was meant to make more of his life and at least in this way he is," she said.
Vogel tells FOX5 he got unanimous support on this bill with every single Republican and Democrat voting in favor. This bill will go into effect October 1st and Yates says they are hoping to take a similar bill to the federal level.