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States hope Good Samaritan laws will prevent overdoses

Dangerous drugs, including heroin, are causing a spike in overdose deaths in the United States. Sadly, many of the overdose victims could have been saved if they had received medical treatment, but the people they were with avoided calling the police out of fear of facing criminal charges.

In order to encourage drug users to call 911 to report overdoses, several states have adopted Good Samaritan laws that grant drug users immunity. According to a research and advocacy group, Colorado is one of 17 states that have adopted such laws.

The group reported that the same number of states have adopted laws that make the medication naloxone (brand name Narcan) more readily available as it can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose by restoring breathing.

The laws have gained support of police and sheriff’s departments, and lawmakers as well as the American Medical Association, the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the American Public Health Association.

In many cases, the laws were pushed by family members of individuals who died after overdosing on drugs and not getting medical attention.

The Good Samaritan laws vary state-to-state, but ultimately hold that people who seek help in the event of an overdose can't be charged with minor drug possession or paraphernalia offenses. The laws do not protect these individuals from more serious crimes such as drug trafficking.

The naloxone laws have lessened the normal restrictions on the medication, which is only available through prescription. They also excuse people who dispense the drug without permission from liability.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people between the ages of 25 and 64 die as a result of drug overdoses than any other type of accident in the United States, including car accidents.

In 2010 alone, 38,329 Americans died because of drug overdoses, the CDC reports.

Source: USA TODAY, “States combat alarming drug overdose deaths,” Michael Ollove, Feb. 20, 2014

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