Contents of a naloxone reversal kit distributed by the NC Harm Reduction Coalition.
Contents of a naloxone reversal kit distributed by the NC Harm Reduction Coalition. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

By Rachel Herzog

On Tuesday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 154, which makes changes to the current Good Samaritan law.

Currently, the law makes a person calling 911 for medical assistance for another person experiencing a drug-related overdose immune to prosecution for drug-related misdemeanors and felonies. Those crimes include things such as possession of less than one gram of cocaine or heroin.

Contents of a naloxone reversal kit distributed by the NC Harm Reduction Coalition.
Contents of a naloxone reversal kit distributed by the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

Senate Bill 154 requires the person seeking medical assistance to identify themselves when calling 911 or to a law enforcement officer upon arrival to receive immunity from criminal persecution.

People on parole or in pretrial release will also be immune from penalties if they call for help for someone else.

These regulations also apply to prosecution for underage possession or consumption of alcohol when the person is looking for help for someone experiencing an alcohol-related overdose.

The bill also removes civil liability from law enforcement officers who arrest or charge people later found to be immune.

“Since this bill was first enacted in 2013, there’s been 513 lives saved,” Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Denton), the bill’s primary sponsor, told the Senate Tuesday.

Bingham said many of the changes in the new bill are the result of compromise with the law enforcement community, which he said has had problems with the Good Samaritan Law since it was passed.

“There’s been some confusion about prosecution and there’s been a lot of pushback because of law enforcement having concerns about what they call the get-out-of-jail-free card,” Bingham said.

He explained that someone could call 911 just because they don’t want to be prosecuted for their own offenses.

Saving lives

The bill also will allow pharmacists to dispense the life-saving opiate antidote naloxone under a doctor’s standing order to people at risk of experiencing an opiate-related overdose and their family and friends. That drug can reverse an overdose if given promptly, but currently is only available by prescription.

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North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition chair Tessie Swope Castillo said she was excited that the bill passed.

“We think it will save lives,” she said.

Castillo said passing this bill was the result of the collaboration of numerous groups, including law enforcement officers, pharmacies and medical boards.

“That was difficult to get that many people on board,” she said. “But I think that’s why it did very well when it was introduced. We’re glad that that collaboration happened.”

Castillo said the coalition also hopes for the success of House Bill 712, which establishes a program to collect and dispose of used needles to get them out of public places to prevent the spread of infections.

That bill has been referred to the Senate rules committee.

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