Legislation Encourages Calling 911 in Drug Overdose Cases and Expands Access to Overdose Antidote Naloxone
Advocates and Families Cheer Bipartisan Agreement as Triumph of Good Public Health Policy
Governor Chris Christie and leadership in the New Jersey Legislature on Monday reached agreement on a bill to help prevent drug overdose deaths. Senate President Stephen Sweeney called the Senate into session to vote on the compromise bill which passed by a vote of 24-1. The compromise was also passed today by the Assembly by a vote of 68-2.
A bill to expand access to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone (S2082/A3095) was sitting on the Governor’s desk. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and passed the Assembly by a vote of 70-6. Last October, the Governor vetoed the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act (A578/S851), which provides limited legal protection for those who witness a drug overdose and summon medical assistance. That bill passed the Legislature with broad bipartisan support.
Under the agreement reached, Governor Christie conditionally vetoed the naloxone bill, adding in language providing for Good Samaritan protection for those who call for emergency medical assistance in overdose situations. The protection would be less broad than in the original bill, but advocates say that the new legislation contains the most important protections for an effective Good Samaritan bill — it would protect individuals from arrest and prosecution for drug possession charges as well as protection from revocation of parole and probation.Advocates cheered the compromise as a triumph of good public health policy. “We are incredibly grateful to the Governor and Legislative leadership and sponsors of these bills for working so hard to reach an agreement on this life-saving legislation,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).
Overdose is a major public health problem and the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey. These deaths are entirely preventable.
The majority of overdose victims do not actually die until several hours after they have taken a drug and most of these deaths occur in the presence of others, meaning that there is both time and opportunity to summon medical assistance. Unfortunately, fear of arrest and prosecution often prevents people who are in a position to help from calling 911.
“I and my family are so thankful for this compromise,” said Patty DiRenzo of Blackwood, N.J., who lost her son, Salvatore, to an overdose when he was only 27 years old. “We, and the other families who have lost loved ones to overdose, look forward to the day that Governor Christie signs this life-saving bill. It’s extremely important that we prevent future overdose deaths and spare other families the grief that mine has endured.”
Eleven other states, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, Washington, Illinois, Colorado, California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Florida, as well as the District of Columbia, have already enacted Good Samaritan laws for drug overdoses and similar measures are currently pending in several others.
Ten other states, Virginia, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Washington state, as well as the District of Columbia, have enacted laws providing legal protection from civil or criminal liability for medical professionals and laypeople who prescribe or administer naloxone to those at risk for drug overdose death.
The two bills are supported by a long list of public health organizations, treatment providers and advocacy groups, including the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence—NJ, the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the New Jersey Hospital Association, Integrity House, the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry, Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, Well of Hope Drop-in Center, the Atlantic City Syringe Access Program, the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, Camden Area Health Education Center, the North Jersey Community Research Initiative, the New Jersey Women and AIDS Network, the New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs Association, Paterson Counseling Center, the ACLU of New Jersey, COPE Center, Buddies of New Jersey, Inc., the Hepatitis C Association, Parent to Parent, Sunrise House Foundation, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, New Hope Foundation, American Habitare & Counseling, Daytop Village of New Jersey and the Center for Family Services.