Every day in the U.S., 105 people die as a result of drug overdoses. Both prescription medications and illicit drugs are to blame, but regardless of the cause, taking steps to reduce the number of unnecessary deaths should be a priority for lawmakers across the country.
One common legal approach to the problem is a “Good Samaritan” law, which promises legal immunity for those who notify authorities of a drug overdose in progress.
Louisiana, despite recently passing a fairly extreme sentence for repeat heroin dealers, has become the 20th state to adopt such a law, and has thereby taken a decisive step in reducing the suffering caused by drug abuse.
Louisiana’s Good Samaritan Law
There were a few changes made to the new rules at the last minute. One of these was that the individual who calls for help will have to stay in the location, and must provide his or her full name to officials upon request.
Paramedics are also allowed to carry naloxone, an antidote to opiate overdose with the potential to save lives all around the country if made widely available.
Furthermore, in a reasonable caveat to the new rule, you can’t be granted immunity if you’re the person who administered the drug that led to the problem.
Although this restriction may still lead to people not calling for help if they’re at fault, it’s clear that people who administer dangerous doses of drugs in unknown circumstances should not be granted immunity without a thorough investigation of the circumstances.
Reporting OD’s And Fear Of Police Involvement
“Research shows that the most common [reason] people cite for not calling 911 is fear of police involvement,” said Louisiana Sen. Sharon Weston Broome. This goes to the heart of the problem the Good Samaritan law was designed to address: these people need urgent care, but the fear of legal consequences delays or even prevents people on the scene from calling 911. In this sense, the law makes it clear that the priority is saving lives, and should drastically increase the proportion of cases where paramedics are able to get on the scene in time.
Louisiana’s Less-Than-Progressive Drug Laws
It’s hard to see an issue with Good Samaritan laws, as long as you’re of the opinion that people struggling with addiction don’t deserve to die because of potential legal consequences, but not all of Louisiana’s rules are underpinned by this forward-thinking philosophy. A perfect example of the more extreme laws is one passed earlier in May that set the maximum sentence for repeat heroin dealers at 99 years. The original bill called only for doubling of the penalties from five years to 10, and critics of the new law have pointed out that murderers and rapists will be in jail for less time than someone caught dealing heroin twice.
The Good Samaritan law is a step in the right direction, but after taking such a monumental step backward with the punishment for heroin dealers, it’s hard to feel as though things are really getting better in Louisiana.
Drug Laws Should Always Focus On Saving Lives
The Good Samaritan law is an excellent example of the sort of drug laws we need. At its heart, it’s about saving lives. Much of the criticism of the ongoing war on drugs revolves around its focus on punishment rather than on providing help for those in need, and for the country as a whole, the increased number of Good Samaritan laws is an undeniably positive thing.
Recently, Georgia passed a similar version of the law, and it seems inevitable that more states will follow.
The Fix’s coverage of the story includes a poignant quote from Kathy Fletcher, a woman who accidently overdosed on prescription medication: “Naloxone saved my life. It should be available to the average citizen just like the EpiPen and glucagon because it’s just as safe, and the faster we get it to people, the more [lives] we save.”
Critics of naloxone and Good Samaritan laws in general may feel as though they’re a tacit approval of drug use, as if the law were saying, “it’s OK if you’re a drug user too, we’ll ignore it if somebody is in danger” or “don’t worry if you overdose, we’re making the cure more widely available so you can survive to nearly OD again.”
This is an oversimplified, easily refutable version of the actual reason for these types of rules.
The complex issue of addiction means that we can’t just lay the blame on the drug users, punish anybody trying to save their lives, and restrict access to a potentially life-saving medication.
Because people are trapped in the cycle of addiction, unable to break free no matter how hard they try, we can’t treat them like social pariahs when they’re more in need of help than ever before. We need to swallow our moral indignation and focus on helping thosein need.
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