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With Jon Bon Jovi joining him, Gov. Christie today signed the bipartisan Overdose Protection Act into law at a drug rehab center in Paterson — providing protection from prosecution to those who help overdose victims or those who administer antidotes in life-threatening situations.
New Jersey’s General Assembly on Monday approved the compromise Good Samaritan law, which legislators said is aimed at helping to save lives and prevent drug overdoses.
The 68-2-6 vote came on a new measure that incorporates components of both the bill known as the “Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act,” which was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Christie that same day and the “Good Samaritan Act,” which he conditionally vetoed last fall.
The new measure provide s immunity for witnesses and victims of drug overdoses in order to help get timely medical treatment.
It also provides civil, criminal, and professional immunity for health care professionals involved in prescribing, dispensing, or administering naloxone or any similarly acting, FDA-approved drug for the treatment of an opioid overdose.
“No life is disposable, and this bill represents a giant leap forward in New Jersey’s commitment to protecting and preserving all life, particularly when people need it most,” said Governor Christie. “As elected officials, it’s our obligation to ensure that we are doing everything we can to prevent tragic deaths from drug overdoses, and I believe this bill will do that.
“I’m grateful that we were able to come together and reach this bipartisan compromise and take meaningful action on this very important issue today.”
Bon Jovi reportedly has a daughter in college who wasn’t charged after an apparent overdose last year thanks to a similar law in New York state.
Patty DiRenzo of Blackwood, who also attended, had a much deeper reason: She fought hard for a good Samaritan law after her son, Salvatore, died of a drug overdose at 27.
“If people are no longer afraid of getting arrested in overdose situations, they will be more likely to call 911 and get help,” she said. “This new law will save lives, and I am grateful to Governor Christie and the legislature for all their efforts in making it possible.”
Her son’s death, “like so many others in New Jersey, could have been prevented if the people he was with had called 911 for help,” DiRenzo said. “But they didn’t, most likely for fear of arrest. Instead, Sal was left alone to die.
Most overdose victims don’t die until hours after they’ve taken a drug, studies show. Supporters of good Samaritan laws say that’s because those people — as well as those who know or are with them — often are afraid they’ll be arrested and prosecuted if they call police.
“Deaths from drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey, but many of these deaths could be prevented if medical assistance were sought immediately without the fear of arrest or prosecution,” state Assemblywoman Connie Wagner of Bergen County said.
“It’s my hope that this legislation will not only save lives, but also provide a moment of clarity to help many with substance abuse problems turn their lives around,” Wagner said.
New York and Connecticut are among a small number of states that already have similar laws in place.
In incorporating the components of the Good Samaritan Act, the New Jersey measure protects a person from arrest, charge, prosecution, or conviction if he or she sought medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose and the evidence for the offense was obtained as a result of the person’s efforts to obtain the medical assistance.
The same prosecutorial immunity would also apply to a victim of a drug overdose who sought medical assistance or was the subject of a good faith request for such assistance.
State lawmakers also noted that naloxone is an inexpensive and easily administered antidote for an overdose of opioids such as morphine, heroin, OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. Specifically, naloxone is used to counteract life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system, allowing an overdose victim to breathe normally.
In addition to providing immunity for health care professionals who administer the antidote, the bill would also provide immunity for other individuals if the action was taken during an emergency — and the person believed in good faith that another person was experiencing an opioid overdose.
“Statistics show that states without an opioid overdose prevention program have far higher overdose death rates than others,” said state Assemblyman Thomas Giblin, who represents Passaic and Essex. “[I]n the case of an overdose, fear and panic often cloud a person’s judgment.”
According to a study released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), naloxone has reversed 10,171 drug overdoses, saving thousands of lives, since 1996.
The CDC also noted that 19 of the 25 states with drug overdose death rates higher than the median and nine of the 13 states in the highest quartile didn’t have a community-based opioid overdose prevention program that distributed naloxone.
“The Overdose Protection Act will help people get treatment faster in life-threatening situations. It is an important tool in our ongoing efforts here in New Jersey to prevent senseless deaths and to get people into treatment” said Dr. Manuel Guantez, CEO of Turning Point, an addiction treatment program in Paterson that treats more than 2,700 men and women each year.
The measure doesn’t promise blanket immunity. You can still be charged if police find evidence of a serious crime. They also can seize drugs, paraphernalia and other contraband.
“This is not about turning a blind eye to drug use, but hopefully saving lives during a potentially fatal overdose,” said state Assemblyman Angel Fuentes of Camden. “And once they are in the hands of medical professionals, hopefully they will receive the additional help they need to overcome any addictions.”
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