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Bill to encourage overdose reporting gets closer to full chamber votes

 A Good Samaritan proposal to protect people coming to the aid of a person experiencing a drug overdose is moving through the Florida Legislature. James Call reports it seeks to address what law enforcement and others are calling an emerging crisis in the number of overdose deaths.

Fort Lauderdale Senator Maria Sachs is sponsoring the 911 Good Samaritan Act.  She drafted the proposal with the help of the Florida Sheriff’s Association to protect a person acting in good faith from prosecution when helping someone suffering a seizure or other medical problems related to a drug overdose.  The measure puts saving lives over prosecuting low-level drug users.

“The crisis we now with the types of prescription pills has gotten to the point where kids will take a prescription pill which are oxycodone or hydrocodone or roxie have a little bit of alcohol and they go into a stupor. Most people think they will sleep it off by the morning they are dead.  So this is a crisis proportion and the state of Florida needs to join other states and pass this to help save lives.”

Studies indicate the majority of people witnessing a drug overdose will hesitate to call emergency services because of fear of criminal prosecution for drug possession. This results in thousands of deaths every year. New Mexico became the first state to pass a 911 Good Samaritan Law in 2007. New York followed with a similar law last year.

Sachs represents parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties. Together those two counties in the past five years, have averaged nearly 550 accidental drug overdoses a year. In the same time frame, there have been more than 16,500 deaths statewide related to drug overdoses. 85-percent of them were ruled accidental.

Pasco Senator Mike Fasano voted in favor of Sachs’ 911 bill when it came before the Health Regulation committee but is noncommittal about further support. He says he doesn’t want to give a pass to drug dealers or others facilitating the abuse of drugs.

“I do not want to go to the extreme where the person is helping or assisting a person who has overdosed… if that person is found to have drugs on them we certainly don’t want to give them the ability to walk away as well and not face some consequence if they have been involved in the drug situation.”

Supporters of a 911 Good Samaritan bill argue that most accidental drug overdoses occur in a home in the presence of others. In Palm Beach County that is true for 62-percent of the cases. Research indicates that most fatal accidental overdose deaths can be prevented if emergency services are contacted soon enough. Advocates say a Good Samaritan bill removes the fear of calling for help. Sachs says her proposal does not give a pass to drug dealers or someone who runs a drug house. She says those individuals would still face prosecution if the proposal becomes law.

“This is more for parties.  Where kids are drinking and participating in drug use. Illegal drug use and we want to encourage young people and others to call 911 and get help for someone experiencing a drug crisis. That’s what. It’s not for drug houses or drug traffickers. It’s for kids. It’s basically for those who are at a party and someone is experiencing a crisis. We need to get medical attention there immediately.”

 Sachs’ 911 Good Samaritan bill has cleared two committees without any opposition and is waiting to be scheduled for a floor vote.  A similar House Bill is up for a second reading on the floor.