A change in the law to allow people to get help for someone suffering a drug overdose without risk of prosecution will undoubtedly save lives. The 911 Good Samaritan Act that took effect last month is a progressive criminal justice reform in a state where drug overdose deaths are the second leading cause of death by injury after motor vehicle crashes. Parents should familiarize themselves with the law and make sure their children know of it too.
The idea is simple. Witnesses of accidental drug overdoses might not call for help if they fear they will be arrested for drug possession. The law, Section 893.21 of the Florida statutes, eliminates that concern, giving people limited immunity from being prosecuted for simple drug possession if they seek medical assistance for someone in distress.
The hope is that the law will lead to fewer cases like that of Joey Boylan, an 18-year-old football player at Tarpon Springs High, whose friends failed to call 911 after he took a lethal mix of prescription drugs; or that of Dan Grant, the 19-year-old son of Cindy Grant with the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance, who died after overdosing on prescription drugs while at a party. These kinds of deaths are typically preventable if medical intervention is sought in time.
The new law is a laudable public policy shift. Over the last two decades, overdoses have tripled in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, driven in part by Florida's prescription drug epidemic. In Florida in 2010, there were 2,420 deaths due to drugs and other biological substances. In Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, there were 600 drug overdose deaths in 2010-11. The new law approaches these deaths as a public health crisis as much as a criminal justice problem and focuses on reducing the social harm.
With Florida among a vanguard of states passing these types of Good Samaritan laws, it is now up to people to familiarize themselves with the law's protections. Only through education and spreading the word will people know that they shouldn't be afraid to call 911 when drugs have been consumed in dangerous amounts. It may save someone's life.