Policymakers are wising up to the role of drug laws in increasing—or preventing—drug overdoses. 14 states have passed “Good Samaritan” laws to make people who report an overdone immune to prosecution for possessing or using drugs themselves.
The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for more state and local governing bodies to pass Good Samaritan legislation to prevent these deaths after federal drug czar R. Gil Kerlikowske called for overdose-prevention laws on Tuesday.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is undoubtedly the most high-profile recent heroin death, but the drug represents a growing problem among illegal drug users. The director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy urged states to pass laws increasing first responders’ access to Naloxone, a drug that reverses heroin overdoses.
“We are not going to arrest our way out of this drug problem,” Kerlikowske said at a White House press conference.
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Maine Gov. Paul LePage is expected to veto a bill that would increase the availability of Naloxone, prompting criticism in a state where heroin overdoses quadrupled between 2011 and 2102.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control, and the reason for 38,000 deaths in 2012.
Karen Hale, a Wisconsin resident, is a mother of the victim of a preventable heroin overdose. Her 21-year-old daughter, Alysa Ivy, died of an overdose while with a group of people. Her friends left her in a motel room out of fear of what would happen to them if they dialed 911.
“We have a huge epidemic and something has to change,” Hale said at a January committee hearing for a statewide Good Samaritan law. “When situations arise and [there is] an overdose, people hesitate to call 911 for fear of police involvement. One way to encourage this … is to exempt them from criminal prosecution.”