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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Good Samaritan Laws Prevent Overdose Deaths

English: Drug overdose
 Drug overdose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Do you know the definition of the phrase Good Samaritan? It's a phrase we sometimes throw around in a cavalier manner, but it is basically defined as:

"A person who gratuitously gives help or sympathy to those in distress."

The Gospel according to Luke 10:30-37 is often referenced that tells the parable about a Samaritan who stops to help an injured man, without regard of their different backgrounds, the Samaritan helps simply because the man was his neighbor.  Perhaps the operative word in the definition of a Good Samaritan is "gratuitously" which means "given, done, bestowed, or obtained without charge or payment; free; voluntary."

Aiding someone in medical or physical distress is a natural reaction. If you witness an automobile accident, you stop to help or dial 911 to report the incident. If you see a person slip and fall, you naturally offer aid. If you see a lost child, you instinctively try to offer assistance. It is what we do, because we are human and we are all part of a community - we are neighbors.

So what would you do if you came upon a person who appeared to be in medical distress and you knew the distress might be caused by an overdose of drugs (either illegal or prescription drugs)? You'd seek help, right? But what if you were also an addict and perhaps were afraid of being arrested as a result of calling for help? According to the Drug Policy Alliance: "Risk of criminal prosecution or civil litigation can deter medical professionals, drug users and bystanders from aiding overdose victims. Well-crafted legislation can provide simple protections to alleviate these fears, improve emergency overdose responses, and save lives."

Hopefully if you happened upon someone who was overdosing from drugs you would be a Good Samaritan and seek help for that person. Hopefully you would do this automatically and without worrying if by doing so you might face arrest and/or prosecution. Fortunately many states have now passed what is called "911 Good Samaritan" legislation.  These states include New Mexico, Washington, Colorado, New York, Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Other states which are considering 911 Good Samaritan legislation are California, Hawaii, Nebraska, and Minnesota.

On August 20, 2012, the senate of the State of New Jersey approved the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, this act would offer "limited immunity to a drug user who seeks medical help in the case of a companion's overdose." The article goes on to say "drug overdoses is now the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey, outpacing auto accidents, studies show. About 800 New Jerseyans and 1,700 Pennsylvanians die each year from overdoses." The bill is now moving to the Governor's desk. It awaits Governor Christie's signature or veto.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) gathers, studies and presents statistics regarding drug overdose death rates. In 2008 36,000+ deaths in the United States were the result of drug overdoses, which is 100 deaths per day! The CDC also reviews state Good Samaritan Laws.

Here is a 911 Good Samaritan Law training video used by the Seattle Police Department (the State of Washington's 911 Good Samaritan Law went into effect in June 2010):




Get involved: Remember the life saved from a 911 Good Samaritan Law could be your own, it could be the life of your spouse, your child, your friend or neighbor. It will be worth it and maybe the person saved will find hope and recovery by getting treatment for their disease of addiction.
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