Legislation Encourages Calling 911 in Drug Overdose Cases; Overdose Is the Leading Cause of Accidental Death in New Jersey</p>
Devastated Families Who Lost Loved Ones to Overdose and Five New Jersey Newspaper Editorials Demand Action</p>
Trenton—Families who have lost loved ones to drug overdoses are demanding that the New Jersey legislature take action to override Governor Christie’s veto of the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act (A578/S851), which provides limited legal protection for those who witness a drug overdose and summon medical assistance. The bill enjoyed wide bipartisan support as it moved through the legislative process and Governor Christie’s subsequent veto shocked and devastated affected families who worked so hard to pass this bill as a way to save lives and prevent other families from experiencing the same grief they were forced to endure.
Overdose is a major public health problem and the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey. These deaths are entirely preventable. The majority of overdose victims do not actually die until several hours after they have taken a drug and most of these deaths occur in the presence of others, meaning that there is both time and opportunity to summon medical assistance. Unfortunately, fear of arrest and prosecution often prevents people from calling 911 and studies show that as a result, help is called for in only half of all overdose emergencies. This bill provides limited protection from drug possession charges for a witness who calls 911 in these situations.
Patty DiRenzo of Blackwood lost her son, Salvatore, to an overdose when he was only 27 years old and has tirelessly campaigned for this bill since its introduction last fall. She, along with the other families who have lost loved ones, was devastated to learn that Governor Christie had vetoed the legislation and instead proposed an 18 month-long study of the issue. "It was like I'd been punched in the stomach," she said. “We’re watching kids die every week. I just can’t believe that he would veto this bill but I’m not going to stop fighting. I will do whatever I need to do in Sal's memory to save lives. The legislature must stand up and override the Governor’s veto.”
Paul Ressler’s son, Corey, died of a heroin overdose two years ago in Hamilton. He was only 18 years old. On the night that Corey lost his life, someone used his cell phone to dial 911 but hung up before the call was completed. Paul has worked around the clock in support of the Good Samaritan bill so that other parents might be spared the pain of burying their own children. He says, “On behalf of all of the families who have lost loved ones and support this bill, I implore the legislature to act to override this dangerous veto. How many people have to die before this bill gets passed?”
Ten states—New York, Illinois, Washington State, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut—have already enacted Good Samaritan laws for drug overdoses and similar measures are currently pending in several others. The campaign for immunity in Florida was spearheaded by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office after it determined that in the vast majority of overdose cases, someone could have summoned help but chose not to. Conservative Republican Governor Rick Scott signed the measure into law earlier this year.
The Good Samaritan Overdose Response Act is supported by a long list of public health organizations, treatment providers and advocacy groups in New Jersey, including the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence—NJ, the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the New Jersey Hospital Association, Integrity House, the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry, Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, Well of Hope Drop-in Center, New Horizon Treatment Service, the Atlantic City Syringe Access Program, the South Jersey AIDS Alliance, Camden Area Health Education Center, the North Jersey Community Research Initiative, the New Jersey Women and AIDS Network, the New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs Association, Paterson Counseling Center, the ACLU of New Jersey, COPE Center, Buddies of New Jersey, Inc., the Hepatitis C Association, Parent to Parent, the Center for Family Services and the Drug Policy Alliance.
In the last two weeks the Star-Ledger, Gloucester County Times, the Courier Post, the Asbury Park Press and the Trenton Times have all slammed Governor Christie’s veto of the Good Samaritan Bill.