Gov. Pat McCrory signed Senate Bill 20 (SB20), the so-called 911 Good Samaritan Law, on Tuesday, April 9.
In an effort to reduce drug overdose fatalities in North Carolina, 911 Good Samaritan Law provides limited criminal immunity from prosecution charges for less than one gram of drugs or paraphernalia to people who call 911 to report an overdose. The immunity also applies to underage drinkers who seek help for alcohol poisoning.
In North Carolina, more than half of drug overdoses occur in the presence of another person, yet in most cases, witnesses are afraid to call for help for fear of police and criminal repercussions for drug possession. 911 Good Samaritan laws place the importance of human life above arrest for small amounts of drugs in order to encourage overdose witnesses to seek help.
There is also a Naloxone Access portion of the law that removes civil liabilities for medical providers who prescribe naloxone, the antidote to opioid overdose, and for bystanders who administer it to someone experiencing an overdose. SB20 also allows for a standing order distribution, meaning that medical practitioners can grant permission to nurses and overdose prevention groups to dispense naloxone without a doctor present.
SB20 was sponsored by Senators Austin Allran (R) and Stan Bingham (R), and co-sponsored by Senators Shirley Randleman (R) and Floyd McKissick (D).“This is a great day for injury prevention in North Carolina,” says Robert Childs, executive director of the NC Harm Reduction Coalition, a public health nonprofit that advocated for the bill. “With overdose fatalities becoming an increasing problem in our state, this law is a great step towards curbing preventable deaths and saving the lives of our loved ones.”
In the past decade, overdose deaths have tripled, claiming over 1,100 North Carolinians last year, while nationwide overdose deaths have surpassed auto fatalities as the leading cause of accidental death. If left unmitigated, drug overdose deaths could rise to become North Carolina’s primary cause of accidental death by 2017. Most overdoses are caused by prescription medications, in particular opioid pain relievers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and morphine.
“This is an exciting and important step towards decreasing the number of young lives lost in North Carolina each year to alcohol use,” said Aaron Letzeiser, executive director of The Medical Amnesty Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to the advocacy and education of this policy throughout the United States. “While it is important to continue the fight against underage alcohol use in our communities, it is critical that we recognize that so many young people continue to drink. I don’t want any parent to lose a child because someone they were with was afraid of the legal repercussions of calling 911 for help.”