Starting in mid-September, 911 callers in Ohio who report a friend or family member is overdosing on drugs will be immune to criminal prosecution — and so will the person who’s overdosing.
The bill, dubbed the “Good Samaritan law,” was signed by Gov. John Kasich this week.
The law bars police and prosecutors from pursuing minor drug possession charges against 911 callers and the drug user in overdose cases. The blocked charges include misdemeanor and fifth-degree felonies, which usually involve small amounts of drugs in a person’s possession and paraphernalia related to use.
The bill had bipartisan support and was sponsored by Ohio Reps. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, and Denise Driehaus, D-Cincinnati.
Sprague said the bill was an effort to encourage people to call for help if someone is overdosing.
“We’re trying to make it easier for somebody to save somebody else’s life,” Sprague said on Tuesday. “It’s recognized that [addicts] have value. They can get help and they can be put through treatment.”
Sprague stopped short of calling addicts victims of drug dealers, but he said dealers are “the real bad guys for filling our neighborhoods with drugs.” The new law does not protect a person who has large amounts of drugs, because that’s an indicator of drug dealing.
“If you’re dealing the drugs,” he said, “the long arm of the law will still come and get you.”
Sprague’s co-sponsor, Driehaus, agreed in a press release that the law was intended to help people.
“In times of an emergency, when lives are on the line, no one should have to second-guess doing the right thing,” Driehaus said. “As Ohio communities continue to grapple with the opioid addiction crisis, we have a stronger opportunity to save lives and fight back against our state’s drug addiction epidemic.”
The immunity only protects a person twice. The sponsors said a provision was added to stop people from abusing the law’s protections.
Anyone who’s granted immunity must undergo a drug screening within a month. In addition, police and social workers can follow up and encourage treatment for people who are revived from an overdose.
The state law is similar to a policy at Kent State University. The policy, enacted in 2009, focuses mainly on underage alcohol consumption rather than drugs.
“Kent State started the policy because we were concerned with our students and we wanted to make them feel safe,” Kent State police spokeswoman Tricia Knoles said. “We wanted to make them feel comfortable to contact the police without getting into trouble.”
A student on campus who calls police seeking help for a friend who might be suffering from alcohol poisoning is granted immunity, as is the drunk student.
She said students who are granted immunity are referred to a counselor, who decides whether the student must undergo a four-hour drug and alcohol awareness course.
The university sees very few repeat offenders, she said.
“I think it’s a great thing to have in place,” Knoles said. “We’d rather get the phone call so we can get out there and save someone’s life than have a student too afraid to call and have officers respond to someone not breathing.”
Nick Glunt can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NickGluntABJ.