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A Good Samaritan Law Would Save Lives during Opioid Overdoses

Jeffrey A. Singer

There is an undeniable opioid crisis in the United States
— and Arizona is certainly not immune to its effect.

Last month, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported
in its Opioid Action Plan that more than two Arizonans
die each day from opioid-related overdoses. The number of deaths
from heroin alone has more than tripled since 2012.

As policymakers tackle this urgent issue, it’s important to not
lose sight of the core principles of human dignity and individual
liberty — and one proposal in the Action Plan that deserves
applause for respecting these principles is the Good Samaritan Law
for bystanders reporting an overdose.

Arizona is one of a
handful of states without laws that protect people who help others
during an overdose – and that may be putting lives at
risk.

Many who could save lives are drug users

Naloxone (Narcan) is an effective antidote to an opioid
overdose; when given intravenously or by nasal spray, it works in
minutes to reverse respiratory depression. It has been used in
hospitals for decades to reverse opioid overdoses.

Since 2013, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
has encouraged jurisdictions to equip first responders with
naloxone and make it more available to other third parties —
friends and relatives — who are likely to encounter an
overdose victim.

As of July 2017, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have
enacted such naloxone access laws. While these laws vary among
states, they all make naloxone more available to third parties and
first responders. In Arizona, pharmacists who have undergone
appropriate training can prescribe naloxone, and many first
responders carry the antidote.

Numerous reports have shown these laws save lives, but there’s
an obstacle blocking first responders. In many cases, a person
wishing to report an overdose is also a drug user — in fact,
that person may have been using the drug along with the overdose
victim. Fear of arrest for drug or paraphernalia possession
prevents the friend from calling for help, and an opportunity to
save a life is missed.

Studies show these laws work

To overcome this obstacle, many states have enacted Good
Samaritan laws that assure people who report overdoses out of good
faith will not be arrested or prosecuted when first responders
arrive to help. All of these state laws share the goal of reducing
overdose deaths by encouraging bystanders to call for help.

To date, 40 states and the District of Columbia have enacted Good Samaritan laws. Arizona is
not one of them.

A 2011 University of Washington survey found 88 percent of drug
users were more likely to summon emergency personnel during a drug
overdose as a result of that state’s good Samaritan law.

A June 2017 Cato Institute study that analyzed
the effects of Good Samaritan and naloxone-access laws from 1999 to
2014 found that the two in combination led to a 9 to 11 percent
decrease in opioid-related deaths, with no evidence that these laws
increased recreational use of prescription painkillers.

While policymakers may disagree over the causes of the opioid
crisis and strategies for addressing it, all share the goal of
reducing overdose deaths. Naloxone is no magic bullet, but it has
an ability to save lives — and it’s not being used to its
full potential.

A Good Samaritan law for overdose reporters will help Arizona’s
first responders carry out their lifesaving mission.

Jeffrey A.
Singer
ppractices general surgery in Phoenix, is a visiting
fellow at the Goldwater Institute, and a Senior Fellow at the Cato
Institute.