University of Maryland student advocates for fentanyl testing after boyfriend's death
A University of Maryland student is pushing for policy changes after her boyfriend died of a fentanyl overdose last year.
The drug didn’t show up in his system because some hospitals aren’t testing for it.
Melanie Yates, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, says her boyfriend Josh Siems was the one.
"We were, you know, looking to get engaged in a few months and everything was going great," she said. "We had our nice five-year plan, you know, we had our kids' names picked out."
Melanie Yates (L), Josh Siems (R)
But everything changed five months ago when police found Josh on the bathroom floor of his apartment, showing signs of a fentanyl overdose.
"They got into his apartment, and they said they found him on his bathroom floor, cold and unresponsive. And they immediately rushed into the hospital," Yates said.
After battling an opioid addiction for nearly a decade, Josh died on October 14, 2022 — his 31st birthday.
"They got his heart started again, and so we had that little bit of hope that maybe, you know, he wasn't down for long enough," she said.
"The doctors eventually came in and said the swelling in his brain would be too much and that he wouldn't survive it. So he has a twin brother, and they got to spend their 31st birthday together."
According to the medical report, doctors say fentanyl didn’t show up in Josh’s system, but Yates says that’s because they never tested for it.
"When we were at the hospital, his parents and I were confused why only cocaine came up. We found fentanyl in his apartment we knew he was using," Yates explained. "About a month afterward, we found out that it's not common for hospitals to test for fentanyl."
Most hospitals only test for what is known as the "Federal Five" consisting of marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, PCP and opiates.
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"We've had the Federal Five urine drug screen for years and years, and I think we're about 10 years behind. I think we should have been adding fentanyl into this 10 years ago," Yates said.
That’s why the UMD grad student is turning her loss into legislation, urging lawmakers to require hospitals to screen for fentanyl in patients with a known or suspected overdose.
State Delegate Joe Vogel from Montgomery County is sponsoring House Bill - 811 in the Maryland General Assembly. His proposed law would address Yates' concerns.
"We have an epidemic of fentanyl overdoses in our state right now and based on what we’ve learned in the process of drafting this bill, we could be significantly undercounting the number of cases we’re seeing here in our state," Vogel said.
In Maryland, fentanyl accounts for more overdose deaths than any other drug.
If the bill becomes law, it would be the first in the region and second in the country behind California.
"This would not only provide us with better and more timely data as to what we’re dealing with when it comes to the fentanyl overdose epidemic, but also it would empower patients with more information," Vogel explained.
The bill is currently moving through the House and still needs to move through the Senate before the legislative session ends on April 10.
The governor has expressed his support for the bill, so it’s likely he would sign it if it comes across his desk.
If passed, it would go into effect on October 1.