Good Samaritan laws in 17 states protect people from prosecution if they call 911 to assist an individual at risk of an opioid-related overdose. More states are considering medical amnesty laws, including Ohio, but in a very limited form.
Under exiting Ohio Law the actions of the 911 caller dictates whether the person could be arrested, John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association said.
“If you possess drugs or you are using, it’s possible you could be charged,” Murphy said. “If you’re not using and you just make the 911 call, what would they arrest you for?”
Overdose deaths are now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, exceeding even motor vehicle accidents among people ages 25 to 64. Many of these deaths are preventable if emergency medical assistance is summoned, Roseanne Scotti, director of the New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance, part of a nationwide organization advocating for drug policy change.
“Overdoses are growing and there is a lot of concern over prescription drugs abuse and heroin,” Scotti said. “People are looking for ways to address this. There’s a lot of interest in Good Samaritan laws.”
About half of the 17 states with Good Samaritan laws have passed them in the last two years, Scotti said.
Ohio’s existing Good Samaritan law provides certain protection from lawsuits to people who give first aid or other emergency treatment to someone suffering an injury or sudden illness. The care or treatment must be given at the scene of an emergency outside of a hospital, doctor’s office or medical facility.
Ohio House Bill 170, introduced by doctor and State Rep. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott), would grant immunity from prosecution to people who assist someone who is experiencing an opioid-related overdose, by calling 911, before or immediately after administering the drug Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan.
“What we have now in Southern Ohio and across the state is a huge addicted population that needs treatment. In my work as a physician treating those attempting to recover from opiate addictions, I see many broken individuals enter our treatment program, relapse, and try again,” Johnson said during House testimony in June.”This bill will get Naloxone into the hands of three key groups of people who are in a position to help: friends and family members of addicts, law enforcement, and emergency medical responders.”
Under current Ohio law, if a person were to administer this drug and save the addict’s life, that family member or friend could be sued for practicing medicine without a license.
“By expanding access to this life saving drug in a smart way, we can have a positive impact on our communities and prevent the heartache a family feels from losing a loved one too soon,” Johnson said.