One person dies every 19 minutes from unintentional drug overdose (Paulozzi 2012). Pennsylvania is among the ten states with the highest opioid use and overdose rates (Paulozzi 2012). With these staggering statistics, families at times may feel powerless in protecting their loved ones from an overdose. However, on September 30, 2014, Pennsylvania legislators voted to enact a law that will provide a tool to prevent overdose. Effective December 1, 2014, Pennsylvania became the 21st state to implement a “Good Samaritan Law” which allows an individual to call 911 or emergency services for a person who is overdosing without fear of facing charges themselves for being involved in drug use or being impaired.
The Good Samaritan Law also added Pennsylvania to the list of states which provide legal access to Naloxone, a lifesaving drug that reverses the effects of opiates/opioids. To date there are 29 states which provide access to either families, friends or both. The means of access vary from state to state but here in PA, starting December 1st, any physician can write a prescription for the lifesaving drug Naloxone to family members or friends. The stigma of addiction in today’s society is bad enough, but withholding a lifesaving drug based on stigma alone is inexcusable.
Now with the passing of The Good Samaritan Law, friends and family members of someone who is in an active opiate addiction can get a prescription so that they will have it on hand in case it is needed. The access to Naloxone should not be reserved for opiate dependent persons. Anyone who is prescribed an opioid runs the risk of accidental overdose. So perhaps in order to protect our family and friends, Naloxone should be scripted to anyone receiving a prescription for an opioid pain medication. Since all opioid pain medications carry the risk of accidental overdose, this precautionary measure would no doubt save lives.
The access to Naloxone should not be stigmatized as a safety net as some have called it, but as a tool to prevent overdose. Recovery support services and family education should follow any treatment for a substance use disorder. The Good Samaritan Law provides a way for families and friends to prevent their loved ones from overdose, and accessing emergency services without fear of incrimination. The Good Samaritan Law also allows families and individuals who have experienced an overdose to get the support they need to start their path to recovery. Through education and recovery support services, individuals and families will learn tools and strategies to help break the intergenerational cycle of addiction and preserve our next generation. What our community can learn from the enactment of the Good Samaritan Law is that every life is valuable and we need to offer all supports available to protect the next generation.
The Council’s Overdose Prevention and Education Advisory Board offers an “Overdose Prevention, Education and Response Training” that walks a person through treating someone who is experiencing an overdose and how families can administer Naloxone. This training is not meant to replace calling 911, rather it designed to stabilize a person until first responders arrive. The first step in any overdose, should always be to call 911. It is vital to get the person who is overdosing medical attention even after the person is given Naloxone and brought out of their overdose. Since the effects of heroin outlast the effects of naloxone, the person could slip back into an overdose once the Naloxone wears off.
So now that the Good Samaritan Law has been enacted, it will no doubt save lives. It is our responsibility to let people know that this law exists and how to navigate it. If you have a friend, family member or loved one who could benefit from this law and access to Naloxone, let them know about it and encourage them to attend a training. The Council will be offering a newly revised training in January that expands on The Good Samaritan Law and Naloxone administration and distribution. For more information please visit our Overdose Prevention and Education Advisory Board webpage: http://councilsepa.org/programs/prevention/overdose-prevention-and-education/
David Fialko, BS
The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, Inc.