Chapel Hill: Opinion

Gayane Chambless: Good Samaritan law protects those calling 911 to report an overdose

By Gayane Chanbless

Gayane Chambless
Gayane Chambless

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose was the leading cause of injury-related deaths in 2013, surpassing motor-vehicle deaths for those between 25 and 64. More overdose deaths are caused by prescription drugs than all illegal drugs combined (Drug Policy Alliance, June 2015).

Many of these deaths are preventable, if medical assistance is provided in a timely manner. Unfortunately, many people using drugs or alcohol illegally do not call out of fear of repercussions – both legal and social. In order to reduce these preventable deaths, Gov. McCrory signed Senate Bill 20 (SB20), known as the 911 Good Samaritan/Naloxone Access Law, into effect in April 2013.

“Good Samaritan” is appropriate for the naming of this law, as in the parable, the Good Samaritan offered assistance to one in need. Unfortunately, many are still unaware of this law and the protection it provides to those witnessing a drug overdose or underage alcohol poisoning.

The purpose of the Good Samaritan Law is to remove the fear of civil or criminal repercussions for calling 911 to report an overdose, and to instead focus efforts on getting help to the victim. While Good Samaritan laws do not protect people from arrest for other offenses, such as selling or trafficking drugs, or driving while drugged, it does provide immunity for those who experience a drug overdose or those who attempt to seek help for the victim.

The law states that the individual will not be prosecuted for possession of small amounts of drugs, paraphernalia, or underage drinking when seeking medical assistance. This is particularly important in our community, as underage drinking often involves binge drinking (consuming high quantities of alcohol in a given period of time) which can easily lead to alcohol poisoning. However, some young people continue to be fearful, not only of legal consequences but of parental reactions. It is crucial that parents talk to their children about this law, which provides potential life-saving opportunities. Having the conversation before an incident occurs, feeling supported and knowing how parents will respond, may ease their fears. It is important to note that the law requires the caller to “use his or her own name when contacting authorities and remain with the individual needing medical assistance until help arrives.” (http://nando.com/32q)

The Naloxone Access portion of the law “removes civil liabilities from doctors who prescribe and bystanders who administer naloxone, or Narcan, an opiate antidote which reverses drug overdose from opiates, thereby saving the life of the victim.” (North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition) Since the law was enacted in 2013, over 1,350 lives have been saved by administration of this medication in North Carolina. Those who use opiates and their loved ones can learn more and receive a Naloxone kit by contacting their provider, their pharmacist, the Orange County Health Department or the NC Harm Reduction Coalition.

In the past year, Orange County law enforcement agencies have also been trained in how to administer Naloxone. Two agencies, the Carrboro Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, have begun carrying Naloxone kits. Together with the Orange County Emergency Management Services (EMS), they have successfully reversed a number of drug overdoses. The ability to save these lives comes from swift actions, the first of which is to make the call. The Good Samaritan Law provides that limited immunity to save a life. That is a good time to call 911!

Gayane Chambless is the coordinator of theOrange Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Free Youth, a program housed at Mental Health America of the Triangle. For more information see www.orangepartnership.org

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