New York’s “911 Good Samaritan Law,” which allows anyone making a 911 call about a drug or alcohol-related overdose in progress to avoid facing criminal penalties, took effect Sunday.
New York State Sen. John A. DeFrancisco sponsored the bill and introduced it in the state Legislature April 6, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill Aug. 22.
The law allows for an individual to seek medical services for someone who is experiencing an overdose without the fear of criminal penalties for illegal possession of drugs, alcohol or paraphernalia. The bill does not protect against the prosecution of those who are caught selling drugs.
“It is the intent of the legislature to encourage a witness or a victim of a drug or alcohol related overdose to call 911 … it is not the intent of the legislature to protect individuals from arrest … for other offenses, including drug trafficking, or to interfere with law enforcement protocols to secure the scene of an overdose,” read a press release posted on the state Senate’s website by Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
The release further stated that the Senate implemented the law in direct response to high number of deaths due to drug overdose in New York.
In 2008, more than 1,350 New Yorkers died from overdoses, a 60 percent increase from 1999. The number who have died from overdose exceeds the number of traffic fatalities in the state.
In the press release, DeFrancisco said that the law underscores the severity of public drug abuse.
“The primary reason people do not call 911 or go to the hospital for an overdose is fear of prosecution,” DeFrancisco said. “This bill doesn’t condone drug use, but rather, acknowledges the importance of helping a victim and spurring a response from witnesses that may help protect the well-being of another person.”
Robbie Cohen, the executive director of Harpur’s Ferry, BU’s student ambulance service, said he is glad the law was passed.
“From an EMS perspective, our primary goal is to provide care,” Cohen said. “Fear of a law is always a concern of ours. When people decide not to get help because of fear of punishment, they are denying themselves the care they need. While it is not wise to abuse drugs, I do believe that the law is a step in the right direction.”
Cohen added that although he is glad the law has been passed for all of New York, he feels that high overdose rates have never been an issue with students at BU.
“We are very fortunate to have a safe community where there are not many cases of severe drug abuse,” he said.
Some, however, argued that the new law gives individuals a sense of false security when using drugs.
“Even if an individual seeks out assistance from an emergency service while they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they should be held responsible and accountable for the repercussions associated with said infringement of the law,” said Steven Mazzoni, a sophomore majoring in accounting. “They should not be granted a ‘second chance’ for putting themselves in that position in the first place.”
Fran Srnka-Debnar, a clinical instructor and director of student services of the Decker School of Nursing, said she thinks the law is trying to accomplish a good goal, but that she worries it is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
“Individuals will be more likely to report an overdose,” Srnka-Debnar said. “I can only hope that the new law would affect how people deal with the circumstances of drug overdose.”