The School of Social Work at University of Washington has been supporting the House Bill 2739. • Photo by Anika Tse
The School of Social Work at University of Washington has been supporting the House Bill 2739. • Photo by Anika Tse

A bill making its way through the Legislature would enlist pharmacists, state agencies, and other organizations in a suicide-prevention effort but has been stripped of a tax-incentive for firearms dealers and firearm ranges who would also be part of the program.

According to a report from the Washington State Department of Health, the state’s suicide rate has been increasing since 2006. In 2014, the Washington state suicide rate was 14 per 100,000 people, higher than the national suicide rate of 13 per 100,000. According to the study, 49 percent of the suicides rate were from firearms, 23 percent from suffocation, 23 percent from poisoning including prescribed medication and 9 percent from other causes.

Introduced by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, House Bill 2793 passed the Senate 93-4 on February 16 and has received support from the Second Amendment Foundation, the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy and School of Social Work.

According to the bill and its sponsors, firearms dealers, firearms ranges, and pharmacists are on the frontline in suicide prevention because of the ways people end their own lives. This bill provides an opportunity for firearms dealers, firearms ranges, and pharmacists to help prevent suicides through education and awareness.

“I think it’s very important for all health care providers to have, at the very minimum, a basic awareness of how to assess if someone (patient, family member, friend, etc.) is in crisis and of resources to refer that individual to for immediate and ongoing support,” said Michaelene Kedzierski, RPh, CDP, Clinical Professor, Director of Admissions, Advising and Counseling Services in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Washington. Professor Kedzierski is also a practicing Licensed Pharmacist and Chemical Dependency Professional and has completed several suicide prevention trainings.

It is a graph showing the number of suicides in 2014 in the Washington state. • Infographic by Stephen Paul Miller
It is a graph showing the number of suicides in 2014 in the Washington state. • Infographic by Stephen Paul Miller

The original bill included four ways to help prevent or reduce suicides.

It would create a Safe Homes Task Force comprised of representatives from the Department of Health, suicide-prevention organizations, firearms industry, firearms-rights organizations, pharmacy organizations, the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, people who have experienced suicide loss or survived suicide attempts and law enforcement.

The UW School of Social Work would manage the task force to increase awareness and education through the development of posters, brochures, online training and a website with suicide-prevention resources.

In addition, the task force and the state Department of Health would develop a “safe homes project” that was originally designed with tax incentives for firearms businesses that facilitated suicide-prevention training among their employees, displayed suicide-prevention literature and made safe-storage devices available to their customers.

Firearms dealers and others in the firearms industry who became certified would qualify for a tax credit up to $2,500 per year, but that provision was removed from the bill.

Also under the bill, any licensed pharmacists would be required to complete a three-hours training in suicide prevention.

Some people expressed concern with the removal of the tax credit, fearing it might reduce participation in the suicide-prevention program and send the signal that the state is not committed to the program.

“It’s not just about the participation rate, it’s about demonstrating a commitment to it,” said Stephen Paul Miller, the operations manager at Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention at the University of Washington, which has been supporting this suicide-prevention bill.

Orwall said the legislature is not considering different types of incentives at this time.

“It was disappointing,” Orwall said. “But I am looking forward to the survey findings so we can come back next session and work on other incentive strategies to attract and motivate more firearm industry participation in the program.”

According to Miller, “this bill is about working together to prevent suicide. It is not pro or anti-gun. There is work to be done when sensible people go to the table looking for sensible solutions to a very complex problem.” He added that Washington state would be one of the few states to have this kind of suicide prevention program in place.

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