The “Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act” sponsored by Assembly Democrats Connie Wagner, Upendra Chivukula, Angel Fuentes, Thomas Giblin and Reed Gusciora received final legislative approval by the Senate on Monday and now heads to the governor’s desk.
The legislation (A-578/S-851) is aimed at saving lives in New Jersey by providing timely medical attention to the victims of drug overdoses.
“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,” said Wagner (D-Bergen). “Many times, the fear of arrest and prosecution prevents people from seeking appropriate assistance in the face of a medical emergency involving drug use.”
The bill would protect witnesses and victims of a drug overdose from being subject to:
- an arrest, charge, prosecution, or conviction for: (1) obtaining, possessing, using, or being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance; (2) inhaling the fumes of or possessing any toxic chemical (3) using, obtaining, attempting to obtain, or possessing any prescription drugs (4) acquiring or obtaining possession of a controlled dangerous substance or controlled substance analog by fraud (5) unlawfully possessing a controlled dangerous substance that was lawfully prescribed or dispensed (6) using or possessing with the intent to use drug paraphernalia, or having under his control or possessing a hypodermic syringe, needle, or other instrument;
- any penalty prescribed for a violation of a restraining order;
- any sanction for a violation of a condition of parole;
- the revocation or modification of the conditions of probation; or
- the forfeiture of any personal property other than drugs or drug paraphernalia involved.
“This measure is intended to encourage individuals witnessing a potential drug overdose to seek medical attention for the victim by insulating them from criminal prosecution,” said Chivukula (D-Middlesex/Somerset).
“This is not about turning a blind eye to drug use, but hopefully saving lives during a potentially fatal overdose,” said Fuentes (D-Camden). “And once they are in the hands of medical professionals, hopefully they will receive the additional help they need to overcome any addictions.”
“In the case of an overdose, fear and panic often cloud a person’s judgment,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). “If we eliminate the possibility of prosecution, hopefully witnesses will be more inclined to seek medical help if someone is overdosing.”
In addition, the bill specifies that the act of seeking medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose is to be considered by the court as a mitigating factor in a prosecution for other drug offenses and that the act of seeking medical assistance is an affirmative defense against a prosecution for strict liability for a drug-induced death.
“A drug overdose can sometimes be the clarion call an addict needs to seek help to overcome their addiction, but only if they survive, that is,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Hopefully this measure will help save lives and turn them around.”
The measure, which was approved by the Assembly in May, was approved 21-10 by the full Senate on Monday.