Medical Amnesty Laws Trending Nationwide
If the State Board of Health has its way, Oklahoma could join a majority of states that have adopted drug overdose Good Samaritan laws in recent years. Sometimes dubbed 911 Good Samaritan laws, the measures afford protection from prosecution for people who seek emergency help when someone is suffering a drug overdose.
The logic is simple. Drug overdose victims can often be saved with quick action. The threat of prosecution can discourage people from taking action.
The people closest to drug overdose victims are frequently involved in illegal drug use. Without legal immunity, those most likely to call for help face a choice between saving someone’s life and saving themselves from prosecution. With legal immunity, those closest to the overdose victim are more likely to call for help.
Especially in opioid overdoses, timely help can save lives now more than ever. A drug called naloxone is now widely used by paramedics and laypeople alike to reverse the affects of opioid overdoses. Opioids include prescription pain killers like Oxycontin along with well-known illegal narcotics such as heroin.
In recent years, naloxone has become easier to get and easier to administer. In 2014, the FDA approved an auto-injector for naloxone, and in 2105 approved a nasal inhaler delivery system for the drug often sold as Narcan. Some states have removed prescription requirements for naloxone, and several have taken measures to make the drug available to police or family members likely to encounter overdose victims.
Oklahoma’s Overdose Epidemic
While treatments for potentially fatal opioid overdoses have spread, so has the prevalence of opioid overdoses. The Centers for Disease Control reports that heroin-related overdose deaths nationwide increased nearly fourfold between 2002 and 2013. Overdoses involving prescription opioid have also spiked.
In Oklahoma, prescription drug overdose deaths quadrupled during the past 12 years. Even more so, the number of heroin overdose deaths spiraled out of control, increasing tenfold in just five years. That is a stunning 1000 percent increase. Oklahoma of late has had one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the nation, ranking 5th in 2010.
The increase in overdose deaths follows a similar dramatic increase in heroin addiction. Heroin addition doubled nationwide between 2002 and 2013, the CDC reports. Nationwide, health officials are calling it an opioid epidemic.
The sudden increase in opioid overdose deaths makes it clear that the epidemic is spreading faster than the life-saving drugs that reverse overdoses. The race between deadly cause and life-saving treatment has emboldened as many as 34 state legislatures to adopt some form of drug overdose Good Samaritan law.
Not all states’ 911 Good Samaritan laws are the same. Most such medical amnesty laws provide protection from prosecution for small amounts of drugs or for drug paraphernalia discovered when someone calls for help. Some, however, only allow courts to consider rescue efforts as a factor when sentencing people for drug crimes discovered during rescue attempts.
Some overdose medical amnesty laws provide protection from supervision violations for people on probation or parole. Some provide protection from prosecution for laypeople who administer naloxone without a prescription.
Oklahoma has in recent years adopted a naloxone immunity law (Okla. Stat. Tit. 63, § 2-312.2), and subsequently has reduced barriers to naloxone access. Naloxone is now available without a prescription at dozens of pharmacies statewide. (Here is a map.)
Oklahoma health officials are ready to keep moving forward. At a recent board meeting, the Oklahoma Board of Health discussed its desire to get an Oklahoma medical amnesty law through the legislature in 2016.
Medical Immunity Only in Heroin Overdoses?
Unless and until the Oklahoma legislature adopts an overdose medical immunity law, those who are most available to call for help in an overdose situation will continue to face potential felony prosecution for drugs found by emergency personnel. We agree with a growing majority of legislatures that overdose Good Samaritan laws are an urgently needed, common-sense approach to saving lives.
We would encourage legislators, however, to carefully consider how they write Oklahoma’s Good Samaritan law. Some such laws apply only to heroin or opioid overdoses. Unfortunately, things in the murky underground world of illegal drug abuse are not so simple.
Why should potential Good Samaritans need to worry whether their friend has succumbed to a heroin overdose or to a combination of alcohol and diazepam? Why provide protection to heroin users who step up and do the right thing but not to cocaine users, methamphetamine users or Ecstasy users?
For far too long, lawmakers have waged war on drugs with too little thought to mitigating the actual harm those drugs cause. Shortsighted laws can cause as much or more harm than the drugs they prohibit. Recent moves to make lifesaving naloxone widely available, and to reduce legal barriers for those who seek help are welcome moves in the right direction.
Free Consultation: Tulsa Drug Crime Lawyer
If you have been charged with a drug crime in Oklahoma as the result of helping someone during an emergency, you could face serious legal consequences. Until an Oklahoma Good Samaritan law is passed, saving a friend’s life could cost you years of freedom. A skilled Oklahoma drug crimes attorney, however, might persuade prosecutors that your effort to save a life warrants leniency.
Police who entered a location during an emergency call might have searched beyond the scope allowed by law, making some such evidence inadmissible. Aggressive prosecutors might base charges on a spurious constructive possession theory for drugs that did not belong to you, and about which you had no knowledge or control. A Tulsa drug crime lawyer knows how to expose those flaws in a case.