Monday, June 07, 2010

Washington Enacts "911 Good Samaritan" Law

On Thursday, Washington is set to become the 2nd state with a "911 Good Samaritan" Law, aimed at getting immediate medical attention to someone suffering from a drug overdose. The law would enable people to make responsible decisions by granting immunity to those who call 911 to get help for anyone showing signs of an overdose. It would protect the caller and the victim of the overdose from any drug possession charges. This is important because the threat of punitive policies often cause hesitation in calling for help during overdose emergencies. 

Currently, over 90 college campuses have enacted Good Samaritan/ Medical Amnesty Policies that are similar to these statewide policies. More than half of these campus policies cover situations involving all substances, while just under half cover only those involving alcohol. Many of these policies were created and implemented by SSDP chapters through the Campus Change Campaign. It is important to ensure that people are able to receive immediate medical attention, regardless of what they overdosed on. Nothing constitutes the involvement of drugs other than alcohol as a reason to deny somebody life saving treatment.

With the hopes of reducing the harms associated with drug use/abuse, Washington's law also includes provisions for greater access to a prescription medication that counters the effects of an opiate overdose. Naloxone is frequently used by doctors and paramedics as an antidote for heroin, methadone, or OxyContin overdoses. The new law allows doctors to prescribe the medication not only to those at high risk for an opiate overdose, but also to those who are likely to witness an overdose, such as family members of people who are on high doses of prescription pain medication. Statistics indicate that since 2001, the drug reversed the effects of nearly 2,500 opiate overdoses. Eventually, the drug could be distributed through public health departments to heroin users; similar to clean-needle exchange programs. Sadly, Washington's law comes too late for a 16 year old girl who died after drinking and reportedly taking ecstasy and whose friends would not bring her to the hospital after she showed signs of an overdose for fear of getting in trouble.

Although this legislation is completely sensible, Washington is only the second state to enact a "911 Good Samaritan" law. The legislation is modeled after New Mexico's statewide policy. These policies remove the hesitation caused by fear of punishment and give people the confidence to make a life-saving call. It is a preemptive policy that promotes responsible behavior rather than a reactive policy that rewards responsible behavior after the fact.


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