In recent years, the United States has been grappling with a devastating opioid overdose epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every day, 115 Americans lose their lives to an opioid overdose. These statistics are alarming, especially considering that many victims are under 35. To combat this crisis, policymakers have implemented various strategies, including enacting Good Samaritan laws and laws governing Naloxone prescriptions.
Today’s a good day to start saving lives.
What would you do if you were walking down the street and saw a man experiencing an overdose?
After reading our recent blog series on harm reduction, I hope you’d pull the package of Narcan from your purse or backpack, administer it, call 911, and stay with the person using rescue breathing and other measures to keep the person conscious until the EMT responds.
Good for you.
You saved someone’s husband, father, uncle, son, employer, or employee’s life! And because you weren’t with the man when he used the drugs, you’d have nothing to worry about.
However, this isn’t always the case when you use drugs with the person, if you are on probation or parole, or if you are a known drug user. In some states, you could be responsible for this man’s life. In most cases, you will face stigmatization.
In the United States, this wasn’t the case in the 1980s and 90s
In the 1980s and 90s, laws didn’t protect drug users from arrest or stigmatization when trying to save their friends from overdose.
I have experienced being cast into the street by friends and left alone while they got far enough away from me to call 911 safely.
Sometime in 1990…
One time, I woke up in front of the house. We were squatting, covered in blood, while an EMT frantically tried to find a vein to push injectable Narcan in me. The last thing I remember before I came to was passing the syringe I used to a friend.
Another time I came to in an emergency room. I remembered working up a shot while returning to Utica after spending a morning boosting in Syracuse, NY. I asked the nurse how I got there. She responded, “Some kind old woman found you lumped over on the side of the road on Route 5S. She put you in her car and drove you 3 blocks to us.”
Three blocks, the person I was with could’ve driven me to the ER, opened the door, and pushed me out, but fear of prosecution kept them from trying to save my life.
I’m unsure what I’d done in this situation, but I have no harsh feelings towards my old crew.
There are a few more times, but you get the point.
Even though the Good Samaritan Law is in place, it is not regulated federally. Each state interprets the law differently, while Kansas, Texas, and Wyoming do not have a good Samaritan Law. In Oklahoma City, John Atkins called 911 for his friend experiencing a fentanyl overdose. Unfortunately, his friend died, and John Atkins was charged with murder.
The Role of Good Samaritan Laws
Good Samaritan laws are vital in mitigating the harm caused by opioid overdoses. These laws encourage witnesses of drug overdoses to immediately call emergency services by offering legal protections to the caller. In many cases, fear of criminal prosecution is a barrier to seeking help, especially for individuals who may also be using illegal substances [^2^]. Good Samaritan laws provide a level of legal immunity for individuals who call for assistance during an overdose event, removing the fear of punishment and encouraging them to act quickly to save lives.
The Impact of Good Samaritan Laws
Emerging evidence suggests that Good Samaritan laws can significantly impact the response to opioid overdoses.
A study conducted in Washington found that after passing a Good Samaritan law, 88% of surveyed opiate users reported being more likely to call emergency services during an overdose event. This increase in the likelihood of individuals seeking help can save lives and prevent further harm.
Furthermore, research indicates that these laws are associated with lower rates of opioid-related overdose deaths. Several studies have shown that states with Good Samaritan laws have experienced a decrease in overdose death rates compared to states without such laws.
These findings highlight the effectiveness of these laws in reducing the tragic loss of life caused by opioid overdoses.
Variations in Good Samaritan Laws
While implementing Good Samaritan laws across the United States is a positive step, it is important to note that these laws vary from state to state.
The specifics of each law can differ, including the types of drug offenses exempt from prosecution and the timing at which the immunity takes effect.
Understanding these variations is crucial for policymakers to develop more consistent laws tailored to the severity of the opioid epidemic in each state.
Naloxone Access Laws
In addition to Good Samaritan laws, the availability and accessibility of Naloxone, an opioid-reversal drug, are critical in preventing overdose deaths. Naloxone can rapidly reverse the effects of opioid overdose and save lives when administered promptly. Laws governing Naloxone prescriptions aim to ensure that this life-saving medication is readily accessible to those who may witness an overdose event.
The Importance of Naloxone Access
Immediate access to Naloxone is vital because time is of the essence in preventing overdose deaths. When administered promptly, Naloxone can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, restoring normal breathing and preventing further harm. By making Naloxone more readily available, policymakers can empower individuals to act quickly and potentially save lives in emergencies.
Similar to Good Samaritan laws, the availability and accessibility of Naloxone vary between states. While many states have implemented Naloxone Access laws, the specific provisions and requirements may differ. Some states have taken proactive steps to increase access to Naloxone by allowing pharmacists to dispense the medication without a prescription. Understanding these variations is crucial for policymakers to assess current laws’ effectiveness and identify improvement areas.
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The Need for Federal Regulation
While progress has been made at the state level, the absence of federally regulated Good Samaritan laws and Naloxone Access laws is a significant barrier to combating the opioid overdose epidemic effectively.
Inconsistent laws and varying levels of awareness across jurisdictions can hinder the effectiveness of these life-saving measures.
A unified and comprehensive approach at the federal level is necessary to ensure that every state has robust legislation to address the crisis.
Overcoming Stigma and Fear
One of the main challenges in implementing Good Samaritan and Naloxone Access laws is overcoming the stigma associated with substance use disorders and drug-related emergencies.
Many individuals may hesitate to call emergency services due to the fear of judgment or legal consequences.
Federal regulation and widespread adoption of these laws can help destigmatize drug use and encourage individuals to seek help without fear of harsh repercussions.
Harm Reduction: A Comprehensive Solution
Addressing the opioid overdose epidemic requires a comprehensive harm reduction approach, including prevention, treatment, and harm reduction strategies. Good Samaritan laws and Naloxone Access laws are crucial components of this comprehensive solution, as they provide immediate assistance during overdose events and increase the availability of life-saving medication.
The opioid overdose epidemic continues to take a devastating toll on individuals, families, and communities across the United States. Good Samaritan laws and Naloxone Access laws are essential tools in combating this crisis.
These laws encourage individuals to seek help during overdose events and ensure the availability of Naloxone, a medication that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose. However, the effectiveness of these laws can be further enhanced through federal regulation and consistent implementation across all states.
As substance use counselors, you must understand your state’s Naloxone and Good Samaritan Laws so you can help explain the legalities of each to your clients who are still using drugs that are more likely to be laced with fentanyl or xylazine.
By working together to destigmatize drug use and promote access to life-saving interventions, we can significantly reduce opioid-related deaths and support those affected by the overdose epidemic.