MORGANTOWN – A new law intended to encourage persons who witness a drug or alcohol overdose to call 911 will go into effect on Friday June 12, 2015.
Introduced by Governor Tomblin, Senate Bill 523 was based on legislation that was developed during the 2013 and 2014 interim study sessions, according to Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, Minority Chair of the House Health and Human Resources Committee.
“I was approached by both students and staff at WVU who were concerned about alcohol abuse. Among other reforms, they asked me to introduce legislation that would provide amnesty for those who called emergency services in cases of an overdose,” Fleischauer explained. “Concerned by the enormous increase in overdose deaths from opiods, especially oxycontin, legislators from the southern part of the state were simultaneously working on amnesty legislation targeting drug overdoses.”
“The Governor’s version was a combination of both concepts with some added improvements,” Fleischauer said.
The new law provides limited immunity from prosecution for certain offenses for a person who in good faith and in a timely manner seeks emergency medical assistance for a person who reasonably appears to be experiencing an overdose.
Eligibility for immunity only applies if the person remains with the person who needs emergency assistance, identifies himself or herself if requested by emergency medical or law enforcement personnel, and cooperates with and provides relevant information that may be needed to assist with the treatment of the person believed to be experiencing an overdose.
A person who has experienced the drug overdose for which emergency medical treatment was sought may also be eligible for immunity and clemency upon completion of a substance abuse treatment or recovery program approved by the court.
Kristen Pennington, who graduated from WVU in May, was involved in the effort by the student lobbying group, SALA, to pass amnesty legislation. “Students wanted a good samaratin amnesty bill,” she said, because studies show that these policies have significantly reduced mortality rates, especially among young people on college campuses. We are thrilled that the bill passed.”
WVU Dean of Students and Director of Housing Corey Farris concurred. “WVU believes that the Good Samaritan law will encourage our students to make responsible decisions and alert authorities when they see someone in medical distress from alcohol or drugs,” he said. “In those situations, we want our students first thought to be 'how can I help,' and not to worry about possible disciplinary action. We want them to contact emergency responders when they believe someone has alcohol poisoning or an overdose. We hope that a 911 call can be made early enough to help save a life.”
Fleischauer said she is close friends with a family whose son died of a drug overdose. “Those who were with him just took off and no one called 911,” she explained. “Although nothing will bring that young man back, I agree with Dean Farris,” she said, “we don’t want to lose anyone else because someone is afraid to call 911. We want them to make the call, and we hope this law will make that more likely to happen.”