There is no denying that there is a terrible heroin and opiate problem here in the Lehighton area, just as there is around the rest of the United States. People are overdosing in public bathrooms, inside of cars, in front of small children and members of the general public. Inevitably, they also wind up overdosing and dying in front of friends and family members, some of whom may also be engaged in drug-abusing behaviors.
There probably is little more horrifying than watching someone you love die right in front of your eyes. Yet these scenarios are playing out every day somewhere in America. But why? What is stopping friends of overdosing addicts from getting them the urgent help they need in order to survive their overdose experiences?
Fear of going to jail is a powerful, but negative, force
Going to jail on drug charges is a legitimate fear, and it is understandable that someone who is engaged in illegal activities themselves might hesitate to summon the very forces that are capable of sending them away for a very long time. Yet, to do nothing and simply watch another person, a friend, die is not just unconscionable, but a potentially criminal act itself.
So where does this Catch-22 leave fellow addicts in the event that someone in their midst is hovering over the abyss of an opiate overdose? Fortunately, Pennsylvania politicians thrust aside partisan divides to come up with the state's version of the Good Samaritan Law, or Act 139.
Provisions of the law
Formerly known as Senate Bill 1164, two years ago last month, Governor Tom Corbett signed the final version into law. Among other protections, it permits first responders and even friends and family members of addicts who are at risk of overdosing, to obtain and administer doses of Naloxone to those addicts who are actively overdosing on heroin or other opiate-based drugs. However, in order to be provided with immunity from prosecution, all must attend and complete approved Naloxone training from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
The law extends this situational immunity to people who use reasonable care when administering the medication that will reverse overdoses within minutes, as long as they are acting in good faith. They must believe that the addict is actively overdosing on opiates - and this is very important - they must seek prompt emergency care for the overdosing individual.
Limitations of the law
The Good Samaritan law is not a blanket protection that allows drug abusers to break the law with impunity. It actually has very narrow and stringent requirements in order for it to be considered valid and provide the good Samaritan with immunity from prosecution, or from violating the terms of parole or probation. While space limitations don't allow us to delve into each circumstance that would be considered applicable under the law, it's important to understand that each instance is determined on a case-by-case basis.
Law enforcement officers and prosecutors also have protection under this law. As long as they were acting in good faith while doing so, they cannot be sued by defendants they arrest or prosecute for charges that are later found to be covered under the immunity protections of the law. If you are facing drug charges and feel the circumstance qualify you for immunity under this law, you may address this matter with your criminal defense attorney.