If you call 911 to save the life of a friend who is overdosing, after September, you will not be arrested, or suffer any consequences for minor drug offenses. That’s the jist of a new law titled the 911 Good Samaritan Law, signed into law by Ohio Governor John Kasich.
The law is the result of the passage of House Bill 110, which grants immunity to both the person overdosing on heroin, opioids or some other drug, and the person who places the call. Neither will be charged or arrested, meaning they will not be prosecuted for a minor drug possession offense.
“One of the things that we have heard is that people are hesitant to make that phone call because they’re concerned that either they or the person that they’re calling about might be charged with drug possession, which could be a misdemeanor, but for some people that would be enough to keep them from perhaps making that call,” Ed Hughes, CEO of Compass Community Health Care, which deals with the treatment of drug addiction, said. Hughes said any of the minutes that go by between an overdose and getting help for that person are critical.
The Daily Times asked Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware about the passage of that legislation.
“I have not had a chance to review the law as it was passed. As I’ve said before, we cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” Ware said. “There needs to be a collaborative effort across all disciplines, in communities across the nation, to overcome the addiction and overdose rates. There are times when criminal sanctions are appropriate and times where a multitude of approaches is appropriate. That balancing act is what communities across the nation are attempting to achieve. It will take time to see whether this law helps or hurts the efforts to reduce overdose rates and get addicts into treatment.”
Ware is on the same page as Hughes.
“Our local law enforcement has been dealing with this problem longer than probably anybody in the nation has,” Hughes said. “So I think that they have seen people’s lives be saved and also have become, in many cases, advocates for people to get directed toward either the medical health they need or eventually drug and alcohol treatment. I hold our local law enforcement in very high regard in terms of how they have dealt with this ever-evolving problem that we have. There are certain things that have gotten better in our community than they have gotten better other places and this is one of those.”
The 911 Good Samaritan law, sponsored by Representative Denise Driehaus and Representative Robert Sprague, is not new, just to Ohio. With the signing of the bill into law, the number of states goes to 38 and the District of Columbia.
The law is one more arrow in the quivveer to attempt to save lives. Now that most emergency personnel are equipped with Naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids, and the lack of reluctance to call 911 to report an overdose, Driehaus and Sprague believe the response time will be hurried up.
“The other part that every citizen should be concerned about is that drug and alcohol treatment is cheaper than jail or prison,” Hughes said.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.