<p>Jerónimo Saldaña: 212-613-8074<br />
Tony Newman: 646-335-5384</p>
The Ohio Senate voted to pass a bill (HB 110) last night that was originally designed to save lives but has been amended to a point where it could do more harm than good. The original bill was modeled after laws in more than 30 states known as 911 Good Samaritan laws that provide people who call 911 to report drug overdose immunity from arrest for drug possession. The Ohio bill, which some are calling a 911 “Bad” Samaritan law, was amended in committee in ways that would make people less likely to call 911; health experts warn people could die as a result. The fate of the bill now rests in hands of Governor John Kasich who has previously spoken out on finding solutions to the heroin epidemic in Ohio.
In 2011, Kasich, signed a sentencing reform bill requiring more rehabilitation services for low level, nonviolent drug offenders. “You do bad … we’re locking you up,” Kasich said. “But for someone that wants to do better, we’re giving you a chance.”
HB 110 not only limits the number of times people can get help (people only receive immunity for the first two times they call). It also requires medical providers to give patient information to law enforcement. Allowing for police involvement, even for investigation, creates an unneeded risk that people will still not call 911 during an overdose.
The bill also requires people to get mandatory treatment screening within 30 day or face arrest. Encouraging treatment is a valuable goal but mandating an assessment without providing resources under the threat of arrest is setting up people to fail. Fear of coerced treatment will also discourage people from seeking help when they or others need it, and people could die as a result.
“This bill places restrictions on calling 911 to help save the life of someone suffering from an overdose and we are calling on Governor Kasich to veto this ‘Bad’ Samaritan bill” says Jerónimo Saldaña, Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Saving lives from overdose is of the utmost importance and should never have conditions attached. This bill has more holes in it than Swiss cheese and could cost people their lives.”
“My son died of an overdose in 2014” says Laura Cash, a resident of Delaware, Ohio who lost her son to an overdose. “There is no reason he should be dead today except for stigma and ignorance. I deserve to have my son, his wife deserves to have her husband alive and most importantly a little boy deserves to have a dad who absolutely adored him. If we want to put a dent in this epidemic, we have to do everything in our power to keep these individuals alive until recovery can be maintained. Every person who is experiencing a medical emergency deserves a 911 call without having to worry about criminal consequences. A life is more valuable than an arrest.”
Accidental 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. In 2014, unintentional drug overdoses killed 2,482 Ohio residents, a record for the state. Many of these deaths are preventable if emergency medical assistance is summoned, but people using drugs or alcohol illegally often fear arrest if they call 911, even in cases where they need emergency medical assistance for a friend or family member who they believe has overdosed.
The chance of surviving an overdose, like that of surviving a heart attack, depends greatly on how fast one receives medical assistance. Witnesses to heart attacks rarely think twice about calling 911, but witnesses to an overdose often hesitate to call for help or, in many cases, simply don’t make the call. In fact, research confirms the most common reason people cite for not calling 911 is fear of police involvement.
“The lack of a 911 Good Samaritan law in Ohio is particularly infuriating, considering we are number two in the nation for drug-related overdose deaths,” said Cassandra Young, the Ohio chapter leader of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. “The Ohio legislature needs to put people over punishment by voting no on House Bill 110 and by working to pass a true medical immunity law, such as the original House Bill 249.”