As early as Wednesday the Ohio Senate could consider a bill (HB 110) that was originally designed to save lives but has been amended so badly it could do more harm than good. The original bill was modeled after laws in more than 30 states known as 911 Good Samaritan laws that provide people who call 911 to report drug overdose immunity from arrest for drug possession. The Ohio bill, which some are calling a 911 “Bad” Samaritan law, was amended in committee in ways that would make people less likely to call 911; health experts warn people could die as a result.
“Calling 911 should not be a crime,” said Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “This bill will discourage people from seeking help and people will die as a result.”
More than 30 states have passed 911 Good Samaritan laws which provide immunity to people who call 911 to help someone who is overdosing. In Ohio the legislation the Senate is considering moves in the opposite direction. It not only limits the number of times people can get help (people only receive immunity for the first two times they call) it requires medical providers to give patient information to law enforcement.Allowing for police involvement, even for investigation, creates an unneeded risk that people will still not call 911 during an overdose.
The bill also requires people to get mandatory treatment screening within 30 day or face arrest. Encouraging treatment is a valuable goal but mandating an assessment without providing resources under the threat of arrest is setting up people to fail. Fear of coerced treatment will also discourage people from seeking help when they or others need it, and people could die as a result.
Laura Cash, a resident of Delaware, Ohio lost her son to an overdose. Speaking on this bill she said, “My son deserves to be alive today, I deserve to have my son, his wife deserves to have her husband alive and most importantly a little boy deserves to have a dad who absolutely adored him. If we want to put a dent in this epidemic, we have to do everything in our power to keep these individuals alive until recovery can be maintained. Every person who is experiencing a medical emergency deserves a 911 call without having to worry about criminal consequences."
Accidental overdose deaths are now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, exceeding even motor vehicle accidents among people ages 25 to 64. Many of these deaths are preventable if emergency medical assistance is summoned, but people using drugs or alcohol illegally often fear arrest if they call 911, even in cases where they need emergency medical assistance for a friend or family member at the scene of a suspected overdose.
The chance of surviving an overdose, like that of surviving a heart attack, depends greatly on how fast one receives medical assistance. Witnesses to heart attacks rarely think twice about calling 911, but witnesses to an overdose often hesitate to call for help or, in many cases, simply don’t make the call. In fact, research confirms the most common reason people cite for not calling 911 is fear of police involvement.
“The lack of a 911 Good Samaritan law in Ohio is particularly infuriating considering we are number two in the nation for drug-related overdose deaths, said Cassandra Young, the Ohio chapter leader of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. “The Ohio legislature needs to put people over punishment by voting no on House Bill 110 and by working to pass a true medical immunity law, such as the original House Bill 249.”