Georgia House Approves Amnesty for Heroin Overdose 911 Calls
With additional reporting by Matthew Charles Cardinale
(APN) ATLANTA — On February 25, 2014, the Georgia House of Representatives passed HB 965 and HB 966, two bills intended to reduce the number of deaths in Georgia related to heroin overdoses and overdoses from other drugs.
HB 965 would provide amnesty to people who call 911 to report a medical emergency in connection with an overdose from heroin or any drug.
“Any person who in good faith seeks medical assistance for a person in need of medical assistance, while awaiting the arrival of medical assistance to aid such person, shall not be arrested, charged, or prosecuted for a drug violation if the evidence for the arrest, charge, or prosecution of such drug violation resulted solely from seeking such medical assistance,” the bill states.
“Any person who is experiencing a drug overdose and, in good faith, seeks medical assistance for himself or herself or is the subject of such a request shall not be arrested, charged, or prosecuted for a drug violation if the evidence for the arrest, charge, or prosecution of such drug violation resulted solely from seeking such medical assistance,” the bill states.
Meanwhile, HB 966 would allow for emergency personnel to administer a drug called Naloxone, an opioid antagonist, to individuals experiencing a heroin overdose, to try to prevent the overdose from killing victims.
Previously, the bills passed the Health and Human Services Committee of the House, on February 19 and 21, respectively. Both bills are now pending in the Georgia Senate. The lead sponsor on both bills is State Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta).
“There is a dangerous drug cartel that is bring in heroin….and young people between the ages of 18 and 29 are dying,” Rep. Cooper said at a recent Committee hearing.
According to the legislative findings of HB 965, “WHEREAS Stephen Cardiges of Lawrenceville died of an accidental heroin overdose; and WHEREAS Randall Brannen of McDonough died of an accidental overdose; and WHEREAS, Stephen and Randall are a part of a growing trend of drug overdose victims in Georgia; and WHEREAS, those who were with them did not call 9-1-1 to seek medical assistance, which could have saved their lives, because of a fear of prosecution for the possession and use of illegal drugs.”
According to the bill, Overdose Reporting/Medical Amnesty legislation, or “9-1-1 Good Samaritan
Laws,” have been passed in fourteen U.S. states thus far, including Florida and North Carolina, and is under consideration in several more. In North Carolina, it is believed that at least twenty lives have been saved since passage last year of similar legislation, and in Massachusetts it is believed that more than 120 lives have been saved since passage of similar legislation in that state in 2012.
Heroin works by locking on to receptors in the brain, which slows the body down and disrupts breathing. Without adequate oxygen, the brain is damaged and eventually breathing completely stops and the person dies.
Naloxone quickly frees up those receptors and restores consciousness and normal breathing.
Not only are illegal drugs causing death, but so are prescription opioid-based pain pills like oxycontin and oxycodone. These prescription drugs are very expensive, while illegal street heroin can sell for as little as ten dollars. That is one reason why many people on pain pills are switching to heroin for pain relief.
Medical cannabis, or marijuana, is legally used in some states for chronic pain, and no one has ever overdosed on cannabis.
Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, is administered either with a spray nasally or with a syringe in the muscle. It is so easy to use, even friends or family members could administer it to overdose victims.
“We passed this bill in North Carolina last year. After we started our overdose program with law enforcement and lay people, we had a forty five reversal [in deaths] in the last four months,” Robert Childs, Executive Director of North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition told the Committee. “We have no problem funding this program through the private sector and donations.”
“If you administer Naloxone to people who are not taking opiates and opioid drugs, it will only hydrate them. It is safe and has zero abuse potential,” Childs said.
Four mothers testified, sometime tearfully, to the pain they experience with the loss of their sons to heroin overdose. Some died because their friends were afraid to call 911; others because emergency personnel did not have Naloxone to administer.
Naloxone has been used safely for more than forty years in ambulances and emergency rooms across the country.
Every day in the United States, 105 people die as a result of drug overdoses involving heroin or pharmaceutical opioids, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control.
The Food and Drug Administration may soon make naloxone for over-the-counter use.