Lawmakers consider expanding immunity for Good Samaritans in face of opioid epidemic

Politics

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A bill going through the Ohio General Assembly closes loopholes that could prevent someone from trying to save a life during an overdose.

Back in 2016, then-Gov. John Kasich signed a bill that enacted the Good Samaritan Law in Ohio.

If someone is present during an overdose, they can call for help and be immune to drug possession charges when first responders show up with that help.

However, unlike a similar law from New York, drug paraphernalia and instruments used to administer the drugs are not covered by the current law.

“The 9th District Court decided that immunity strictly is limited to possession of controlled substances,” said State Rep. Tavia Galonski during the first hearing of her bill to rectify that situation.

Facing arrest over possession of paraphernalia instead of drug possession has to stop because it is preventing some addicts from getting help for those who are overdosing, Galonski said.

“If you get that first-time user, that first-time terrified kid, instead of leaving their buddy to die, maybe they’ll actually make the call; and if they know that they don’t have to fear that law enforcement full handcuffs, than maybe they will make a call,” said Galonski.

The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association says it is likely to oppose the bill. They say the current law has problems as it is, and until those problems are fixed, they don’t think it should be expanded.

The association did not detail what they saw as problems in the current law.

Galonski tried to get ahead of critics, saying the law is not perfect, but it is saving lives. Her expansion of the immunity to cover the paraphernalia and instruments will only make it easier for more lives to be saved, she said.

The law would not be without restrictions and safeguards against abuse.

“Two times only, we’re not going to keep making these referrals indefinitely,” said Galonski.

Putting a cap on the number of times the immunity can be applied is necessary, because, ultimately, this law is about giving people a chance to recover.

“Nobody’s going to get to that point if they’re dead and the point of the law originally — 911, we have an emergency, we need you to come and save lives — and we don’t want to put a chilling effect on that,” said Galonski. “To truly help those suffering from the disease of addiction, we need to encourage them to reach out for assistance without fear.”

State Representative Phill Plummer, a former sheriff and current vice-chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee, where the bill is being heard, appears to support it at this time, saying it is ridiculous that there is a program that gives out free syringes to addicts so they don’t share dirty needles and open themselves up to diseases and then we turn around and bust them for having the needles when an overdose happens.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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