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Question of the Month ~ October 2014


Q. What policies are states adopting to encourage people to seek assistance during drug and alcohol overdoses?

In the United States, 113 people die each day from a drug overdose, the leading cause of injury death. Among people age 25 to 64, drug overdoses kill more people than do motor vehicle accidents, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Between 2010 and 2012, federal data show, deaths from heroin overdoses doubled.
Partly in response, state policymakers have looked for new ways to help prevent these tragic incidents. One idea has been to create new immunity laws: protecting a person who seeks medical attention for someone believed to be in danger of overdosing.
A person who calls 911, for example, can receive protection from low-level criminal charges as long as he or she stays on the scene until help arrives and then cooperates with medical and law-enforcement officials. These laws typically provide immunity from charges such as possession, but not from more-serious offenses such as manufacturing or trafficking drugs.
In 2012, Illinois was the first Midwestern state to pass a “911 Good Samaritan” law. Minnesota and Wisconsin followed suit this year; these states are among 20 nationwide that have such policies in place, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
Four states in the Midwest (Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota) have also adopted “medical amnesty” laws. Designed to prevent alcohol-related deaths among people under 21, these laws provide limited legal immunity to intoxicated minors who report an alcohol-related medical emergency. Indiana expanded its law this year (SB 227) to provide protections for individuals who report other medical emergencies, such as a drug overdose or sexual assault.
When an individual is experiencing an opiate-related overdose, one of the most widely used treatments is naloxone. This medication can immediately halt the slowed breathing present during an overdose. But naloxone is classified as prescription-only, so it can only be dispensed after an assessment by a properly licensed medical professional.
Some states, though, have passed laws protecting first-responders from prosecution and/or civil liability if they administer naloxone.
In 2013, Ohio launched a pilot program in Lorain County that offers special training for qualified emergency responders in overdose response. These professionals can be certified to carry and administer naloxone, and be protected from criminal charges if they use it in a suspected overdose. The pilot program provided similar protections for medical professionals prescribing or dispensing the medication. The one-year program led to passage of a statewide law in Ohio earlier this year (HB 170). Just over half of states have some law in place regarding access to naloxone.


Article written by Kate Tormey, CSG Midwest assistant editor and policy analyst. Question of the Month highlights an inquiry received by CSG Midwest through its Information Help Line.