D.C.’s Good Samaritan Law takes effect today

Hydroxyzine (Vistaril, Atarax)Today, a law will come into place that D.C. Council members hope will lower the number of drug overdose-related deaths in the District. The “Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act of 2012” works by allowing more leniency for both the individual suffering the overdose and the witnesses, encouraging bystanders to call 911 without fear of prosecution by law enforcement for evidence found at the scene. Most notably, it provides protection to those who call 911 for minors suffering from alcohol poisoning, even if they were the ones who provided the alcohol.

The key points include:

  • No evidence found at the scene may be used against the person who called emergency services or the individual in need of treatment. Even if controlled substances or paraphernalia are found at the scene, if it was through the process of providing health care, charges cannot be brought against the witnesses.
  • This provision includes the possession or distribution of alcohol to a minor (Just sayin’). It should be noted that the law provides “limited protection” for underage drinkers as well as adults 25 years old or younger who give alcohol to minors over the age of 16. Interestingly, the language in alcohol-related cases is more restrictive than in drug-related cases, in reference to the “Omnibus Public Safety Amendment Act of 2006″, which includes the specifics pertaining to D.C.’s alcohol policy. Check out the section titled “Contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
  • If a bystander administers an opioid antagonist (a drug that rapidly reduces the absorption rate of opiates, such as heroin, into the nervous system), regardless of how the opioid antagonist was obtained, the bystander cannot be prosecuted for administering “it in good faith to treat an overdose.” This measure is significant because earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control found that 3 of 4 pharmaceutical overdose deaths were caused by opioid analgesics, commonly found in prescription drugs. Pharmaceutical drugs were the leading cause of death in overdoses in 2010.

The law also encourages the D.C. Department of Health to disseminate information about the law to the public.

“Nationally, drug overdose rates have increased more than five times since 1990, and increased more than 150 percent between 2000 and 2010,” the Drug Policy Alliance writes. “In recent years, cocaine has been the lead cause of overdose death in D.C., followed by heroin and other opiates. District of Columbia Medical Examiner data indicate that African American residents are at greatest risk of experiencing a fatal overdose.”

Ten states have already enacted “Good Samaritan” laws. The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute of the University of Washington conducted a study of the Washington law, concluding that “88% of opiate users indicated that now that they were aware of the law they would be more likely to call 911 during future overdoses.”

h/t Huffington Post D.C.

Photo: Milo Tobin via Flickr

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