A NEW LAW PROVIDES IMMUNITY FROM DRUG CHARGES TO SOMEONE WHO CALLS 911 TO REPORT AN OVERDOSE
by Marcus Abernathy
Something is happening in the United States that will save thousands of lives. A bill called the 911 Good Samaritan Law is catching on. And no, it’s not the law from the final episode of Seinfeld that says you must intervene if you witness a crime being committed. It is, however, a law that provides immunity from drug or paraphernalia charges if you call 911 to keep someone (or yourself) from dying of an overdose.
The following anecdote is from Gabriel:
“When I was in college I experimented with drugs and alcohol without any regard for my physical or mental well being. This careless behavior eventually caught up with me on a rainy night in Boston. Hanging out with my regular party crew we started the evening like many other smoking copious amounts of marijuana followed by many scotches topped of with a couple of lines of coke. The sesh set me straight and I was ready to go out, this particular night we hit up a reggae bar called The Western Front. All was well; many joints, drinks and bumps. Later that evening after returning to my friend’s house, I snorted one more line for the road and that’s when it happened: the worm turned for me in a bad way. Cold sweats , drop in blood pressure, paranoia…something was really wrong. The rest of the night I was pleading with friends to take me to a hospital but the fear of some sort of judicial repercussion squashed that idea quick. I was on my own; a one man life boat. I was sure I was dying. Racing heartbeat, ringing ears. My girlfriend brought me home and did everything wrong. Put me in a hot shower, served me more booze…it was a nightmare. Luckily, I woke up the next morning but losing my life was a chance my friends were willing to take to avoid any type of prosecution that might have landed them in jail and or ruin their “bright” futures. Come to think of it I was never quite the same after that incident. Who knows what I could have avoided that I’m afflicted with now had they taken me to the hospital right away.”
Obviously, and fortunately, Gabriel lived to tell about his experience. There are many other stories like this, however, that don’t have a happy ending.
Studies show that more than half of all overdoses happen in the presence of another person. Unfortunately, 911 is rarely called because these other people fear facing charges. In a situation where every second counts, the 911 Good Samaritan Bill gives the green light to make the call without any hesitation. I’m sure most of you recall this scene (NSFW) in the Quentin Tarantino flick Pulp Fiction where Mia overdoses on Vincent Vega’s heroin, and instead of calling 911 he and his dealer inject adrenaline into her heart. That’s what I’m talking about here. The thing is, most drug dealers don’t keep a syringe filled with adrenaline handy. Which brings me to another popular issue regarding overdoses, specifically for opiates.
There is a drug called Naloxone that reverses the effects that opiates have on the brain, restores normal breathing patterns within minutes, and can save the life of someone overdosing on prescription painkillers or heroin. It is used by emergency responders for this very reason. And since police are usually first on the scene, many counties in New Mexico, New York and Massachusetts are beginning to train their law enforcement in the administration of Naloxone. There are even efforts to educate loved ones on Naloxone, in the event someone they know is prescribed pain medication or has an addiction.
This is another step toward reversing the stigma surrounding addiction; it’s catching on, slowly but surely. As a matter of fact, yesterday Vermont became the 13th state to sign the Good Samaritan Bill. It can’t happen soon enough, though. Recent reports show that overdose has surpassed car accidents and murder, combined, as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Addiction is an illness, not a moral failing. And if we can shift the view into this light, doors will begin to open and more addicts will be willing to ask for help.
Marcus Abernathy is a recovering drug addict, pursuing a Master’s in Clinical Psychology specializing in Addictive Behaviors.