New Jersey Lawmakers Reach Deal On Bill To Curb Overdose Deaths

The New Jersey legislature reached a deal with Gov. Chris Christie (R) today on a bill aimed at ending preventable deaths because those who witness drug overdoses are afraid to call the police. The new bill passed overwhelmingly by the state legislature for the second time, after a partial veto by Christie, will provide some legal protection to those who witness a drug overdose and call for help. It will also expand immunity for those who administer the overdose antidote, naloxone.

Last year, Christie vetoed a similar “Good Samaritan” bill intended to incentivize individuals to report overdoses and administer life-saving drugs, but Christie came around to a compromise after lobbying from parents whose children had died from an overdose. The latest version passed again by both houses will provide legal immunity for anyone who calls 911, except those who have violated a restraining order. Christie also narrowed a provision to permit non-health professionals to administer the overdose antidote, allowing immunity to those who administer the antidote drug during an emergency, if the person believed in good faith that the victim was experiencing an opioid overdose. New Jersey On-Line reports:

In 2009, the last year for which statistics are available, there were 752 drug overdose deaths in New Jersey, many of them due to prescription overdose or a combination of prescription and illegal drugs.

The scope of the problem is staggering, said Diane Conforti of Rumson, whose 26-year-old son, Michael D. Garfole, died from an overdose. “Nurses have told me they go out and check the bushes around hospitals because kids bodies get dumped there,” said Conforti, a licensed clinical social worker.

Nationally, rates of overdose have more than tripled since 1990 and led to more than 38,000 U.S. deaths since 2010, according to David Sheff, the author of a book on addiction. Most lethal overdoses come from street drugs like heroin as well as prescription pain medications like Oxycontin.

Eleven states have enacted Good Samaritan laws for drug overdoses, and ten have laws that provide some immunity for administering naloxone, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. The measure is the latest move toward a new approach on drug reform that emphasizes public health over criminalization of drug use.