In June of 2017, Governor Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency concerning the number of opioid-related deaths in Arizona. 911 Good Samaritan laws are a common sense measure that could have saved an estimated 100 Arizona lives last year alone. This week, Governor Ducey called a special session of the Arizona Senate to pass laws related to his plan to reduce opioid abuse and overdose.
Forty states have Good Samaritan laws that protect people who call 911 from facing prosecution for drug possession. Drug users fear calling for help during a medical emergency because they know they could be arrested and charged with a crime. In Washington State, 88% of drug users surveyed reported they were more likely to call for help knowing they would be shielded from prosecution under the state’s Good Samaritan law.
Advocates mainly focus on how 911 Good Samaritan laws save lives during overdose events, in which every moment counts. The faster EMTs arrive and administer treatment, the better the chances of survival. Laws that increase access to naloxene have been passed in all 50 states; in Arizona, specially trained pharmacists can prescribe naloxene and EMTs are allowed to administer it at the scene of an overdose. However, EMTs can only prevent overdose deaths if they are called to the scene in the first place.
In an op-ed in the Arizona Capitol Times, a former police officer recalls witnessing the death of a 16-year-old girl during his involvement in a sting operation. He describes how police officers on a mission to find and arrest drug dealers will often threaten low-level drug offenders with charges that carry harsh sentences, in order to get them to “snitch.” It’s no wonder drug users leave their friends in a moment of crisis, influenced at least as much by fear as by the drug itself. Protecting users who call 911 from facing arrest would certainly save lives and keep more low-level drug offenders out of prison.
Good Samaritan laws are a step in the right direction of treating drug abuse as a public health issue. If you have been charged with possession of drugs and/or paraphernalia in Arizona, contact Nava Law for a free consultation at 602-358-0288. And if you need help overcoming drug abuse or addiction, the Governor’s office provides a list of drug treatment and recovery centers near you. You can get help before you get caught up in the criminal justice system.