Legislation Encourages Calling 911 in Drug Overdose Cases; Overdose Is the Leading Cause of Accidental Death in New Jersey</p>
Campaign to Override Misguided Veto Gains Momentum</p>
Trenton—Last night, the Maple Shade and Haddon Heights town councils approved resolutions calling upon the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly 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 passed the legislature with bipartisan support but was conditionally vetoed by the governor on October 5, 2012.
Camden County, where Haddon Heights is located, has the highest drug overdose rate in New Jersey, with 97 deaths in 2009 alone. Maple Shade is part of Burlington County, which experienced 35 overdose deaths that same year. In total, more than 700 overdosed and died throughout New Jersey in 2009.
In addition to Maple Shade and Haddon Heights, seven other New Jersey municipalities have approved resolutions in recent weeks calling for a legislative override of the Governor’s misguided veto, including Magnolia, Gloucester Township, Red Bank, Audubon, Camden, National Park, and Princeton Township. Raritan and Flemington have also adopted resolutions in general support of a Good Samaritan policy for those who witness a drug overdose and summon medical assistance.
Alice Silverman of Maple Shade lost her son, Danny, to an overdose six years ago. “I am very grateful to Mayor Lou Manchello and the entire Maple Shade Town Council for approving the resolution. The void in my life without my son is enormous. Holidays are hard, I always experience what I call “the empty chair syndrome.” However, this 7th Thanksgiving without my son, I feel I have now have something special to be thankful for—my town council’s support of the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act.”
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 campaigned tirelessly for this bill since its introduction last fall. She is now working with other families and advocates on a campaign to urge the legislature to override the governor’s misguided veto. “I’m thrilled that a growing number of New Jersey towns are taking the initiative to stand up and fight for a policy that will literally save thousands of lives. I was devastated to learn of the Governor’s veto but these resolutions are an encouraging sign that the fight is not over. I will do whatever I need to do in Sal’s memory to save lives. The legislature must stand up and do the right thing.”
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.