MARIA JOSE ALDANA
You are at a house party of a friend, of a friend, of a friend. It has been a crazy night, and you go upstairs to take a break and wash your face in the sink. When you open the door to the restroom, you find a person who is overdosing. What do you do? Do you call 911?
According to the CDC, “deaths from drug overdose have been rising steadily over the past two decades and have become the leading cause of injury death in the United States”. Many of these deaths could be prevented if people could receive timely medical attention. However, the fear of police involvement and potential arrest or prosecution, stops many people that witness an OD to call 911.
I just moved to Washington, D.C. to work with an organization called HIPS, which works from a harm reduction approach to promote healthier behaviors in individuals that engage in sex work and drug use. Just last week, I learned about a new law that was passed in DC this year. A representative of the Drug Policy Alliance came to the office to speak about the 911 Good Samaritan Overdose Law. Any Good Samaritan Law aims to protect those who offer assistance to people who are injured or in danger of peril, from arrest or prosecution from “wrongdoing”. In this particular case, if you witness an OD and report it to 911, this law protects you from being arrested or prosecuted for drug possession. New Mexico was the first state to pass a Good Samaritan law, in 2007, and today, a total of fourteen states plus DC have passed it so far. The law protects “only the caller and overdose victim from arrest and/or prosecution for simple drug possession, possession of paraphernalia, and/or being under the influence”.
There are some questions that popped into my mind as I learned about this law. First, how can we bridge the gap between policy frameworks and actual implementation of laws on a daily basis? How can we, as ordinary citizens, have ownership of the laws of the places where we live? How much power of negotiation do different sectors of the population have when they find themselves in situations where they could be arrested or prosecuted? How is this connected to the power of information, of media, the use and access to statistics and data? How can we educate ourselves and others in more efficient ways to learn about legal systems? Finally, what implications do these laws have on bigger, structural issues, like the ongoing wars on drugs or harm reduction approaches in public health? I don’t pretend to answer all these questions here, but merely want to start a space for conversation and dialogue.
First of all, we need to be better informed of the laws that govern the places where we live. This might change by region, country, or state (or other political divisions). As citizens, and even as temporary visitors (like myself), it is important to know and to get informed of your context. So if you are living in the U.S., this is a map of the different states where you can see where and when the Good Samaritan OD Prevention law passed. I’m a visual learner, so I like the map, but there’s other useful resources you can tap into as well.