New Law Encourages Calling 911 in the Event of an Overdose By Providing Immunity for Drug and Alcohol Offenses When Medical Assistance is Sought
Family Members and Friends Can Now Receive Prescription for Life-Saving Drug Naloxone To Administer to Opioid Overdose Victims
Two critical Vermont bills aimed at preventing overdose deaths were signed into law by Governor Peter Shumlin on Wednesday. H.65 provides limited legal protection for those who witness or experience a drug or alcohol overdose and summon medical assistance, while H.522 permits prescription of the life-saving opiate-antagonist drug Naloxone to third-parties and provides limited immunity for such prescription as well as administration of the drug.
Nationally, drug overdose rates have increased more than five times since 1990, and increased more than 150 percent between 2000 and 2010. Today, overdose is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
The majority of overdose victims are in the presence of others and do not die until several hours after they have taken the drug, meaning that there is both time and opportunity to both summon medical assistance as well as administer Naloxone, a prescription drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.
Vermont’s H.65 — colloquially known as a “Good Samaritan” law — is by far the most robust law of its kind. Although 13 states (Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Washington) and the District of Columbia have already enacted Good Samaritan laws for preventing fatal drug overdoses, Vermont’s law provides significantly broader protections for overdose victims and witnesses who seek medical assistance.
“Criminalization should not be a barrier to calling 911,” said Lindsay LaSalle, attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “The Vermont legislature has aptly recognized that saving a life is of paramount importance to the prosecution of any nonviolent drug crime.”H.65 provides protection from all drug offenses, including drug dispensing and sales. This means that offenders will not be arrested, prosecuted, or convicted for any drug-related offense if they call 911 in the event of an overdose. H.65 also protects against civil asset forfeiture. Vermont is the first state to provide protection against the seizure of personal property when medical assistance is sought for an overdose victim.
Vermont is only the third state to also provide protection against violations of parole or probation conditions and is the first state to provide protection from violations of restraining orders.
H.522 is also aimed at preventing overdose, specifically from opioids. H.522 provides for third-party prescription of Naloxone to a family member, friend, or other person in a position to assist a person at risk of experiencing an opioid-related overdose, as well as provides health care professionals with immunity from criminal and civil liability for such prescription.
H.522 also provides immunity from civil and criminal liability for people who administer Naloxone to a person who is overdosing, thereby removing any potential barrier to using the drug. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lay witnesses have used Naloxone to reverse more than 10,000 overdoses nationwide since 1996.
Further, H.522 also directs the Vermont Department of Health to develop and implement a prevention, intervention, and response strategy to opioid overdose as well as develop and administer a statewide pilot program for the purpose of distributing Naloxone. These provisions will ensure that people are educated on the risks and signs of overdose, as well as the proper response, including the administration of Naloxone, to opioid overdose.
“Implementation of these new laws by public health and law enforcement officials is critical to improving public willingness to immediately seek medical assistance for overdoses involving illegal drugs and alcohol use as well as to administer Naloxone to opioid overdose victims,” LaSalle said.