In New Jersey – where overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death, exceeding traffic fatalities and gun-related deaths – legislators are considering implementing a law that would grant immunity to those who dispense and administer naloxone, a medication that counters the effects of overdoses from opiates like OxyContin and heroin. The Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act would allow medical providers to prescribe naloxone and allow people to administer the drug to overdose victims without fear of being prosecuted. It would also require that prescription recipients get information on how to prevent and recognize overdoses, as well as how to administer the medication and care for the overdose victim. Eight other states have similar laws.
Last year, New Jersey legislators floated a separate bill that would have granted immunity to those who report overdoses, but Gov. Chris Christie nixed the measure, proposing that state officials study the issue instead. The governor claimed the legislation was too narrowly focused on encouraging more reporting of drug overdoses, rather than other aspects such as drug abuse deterrence, violence prevention and public safety.
Good Samaritan laws aim to reduce overdose deaths by protecting people who call for medical help for overdose victims from being prosecuted for personal possession of drugs, paraphernalia or underage drinking. Even though opiate overdoses are on the rise, many people don’t call 911 out of fear of arrest and prosecution, and instead rely on ineffective methods of reviving victims. Nine states – New York, Illinois, Washington State, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut – have already enacted such laws, and similar measures are currently pending in several others.