Trenton—Today at 2:00 p.m., Governor Chris Christie is scheduled to sign into law the Overdose Prevention Act, a bill designed to mitigate the high number of drug overdose deaths that occur in New Jersey each year. The signing will take place at Turning Point, a drug treatment facility in Paterson. Several dozen family members who lost loved ones to an overdose, as well as public health organizations and treatment providers will be present.
Also slated to attend is singer Bon Jovi, whose daughter benefitted from New York’s Good Samaritan law last year when she overdosed on heroin in a college dorm room and a friend dialed 9-1-1 to save her life.
The bill was the result of a compromise that combined two different pieces of overdose prevention legislation. Last October, the Governor vetoed the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act (A578/S851), which provides limited legal protection for those who witness a drug overdose and summon medical assistance. Several months later, a bill to expand access to the opioid overdose antidote naloxone (S2082/A3095) was passed by the Legislature and sent to the Governor’s desk.
Under an agreement reached between the Legislature and the Governor, Christie conditionally vetoed the naloxone bill and added additional language providing legal protection for those who call for emergency medical assistance in overdose situations. Although the protections offered in the compromise bill are not as broad as they were in the original Good Samaritan Act, the most critical immunities shielding callers from arrest and prosecution for drug possession charges survived. State legislators overwhelmingly approved the new bill on Monday.
Advocates cheered the compromise and the governor’s decision to do a public signing. “We applaud Governor Christie for choosing to do a public signing in order to draw attention to this critical law,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for Drug Policy Alliance. “The more people who know about this new policy, the more lives that will be saved.”
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 who are in a position to help from calling 911.
Patty DiRenzo of Blackwood who lost her son, Salvatore, to an overdose when he was only 27 years old says, “For my family, and others who have lost loved ones to overdose, watching the Governor sign this bill will be a truly momentous and emotional occasion. I have no doubt that the new law will prevent future overdose deaths and spare other families the grief that mine has endured.”
Eleven other states, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, Washington, Illinois, Colorado, California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Florida, as well as the District of Columbia, have already enacted Good Samaritan laws for drug overdoses and similar measures are currently pending in several others.
Ten other states, Virginia, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Washington State, as well as the District of Columbia, have enacted laws providing legal protection from civil or criminal liability for medical professionals and laypeople who prescribe or administer naloxone to those at risk for drug overdose death.
The two bills are supported by a long list of public health organizations, treatment providers and advocacy groups, 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, 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, Sunrise House Foundation, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, New Hope Foundation, American Habitare & Counseling, Daytop Village of New Jersey and the Center for Family Services.