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Arizona Legislator Aims to Cut Overdose Deaths by Shielding 911 Callers from Arrest

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After a drug overdose, minutes matter. But often, witnesses hesitate to call for paramedics because they, too, are hopped up and are afraid of arrest.

State Representative Randall Friese wants to change that so he's proposed a statute — a Good Samaritan law — that would prohibit authorities from pressing drug use or possession charges against people who seek medical help when they or someone else has overdosed.

Friese (D-Tucson) told New Times that he believes House Bill 2089, currently working its way through the House of Representatives, will save lives.

Nationally, drug overdose now is the leading cause of accidental death among people ages 25 to 64, killing more Americans than even motor-vehicle accidents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Arizona has the sixth-highest drug fatality rate in the country.

Friese, a surgeon, also is co-sponsoring HB 2355 with Representative Heather Carter (R-Cave Creek), which would allow pharmacists to give out naloxone, a drug that temporarily counteracts the life-threatening effects of an opioid overdose, to drug addicts or family or friends positioned to help them without a prescription. Administering the rescue drug by injection or via nasal spray immediately after an overdose can stabilize victims for 20 to 90 minutes while paramedics are en route.

Currently, naloxone requires a prescription and is only available to the at-risk drug user. Doctors have been hesitant to pass out the rescue drug for fear of being held liable criminally, civilly, or professionally.

HB 2355, approved 59-0 by the House on Friday, would protect doctors and pharmacists who dispense naloxone, or similar FDA-approved drugs, except in cases of “wanton or willful neglect.”

Law enforcement officials and healthcare professionals expressed support for expanding access to naloxone.

In addition to preventing deaths, Friese argues, the two proposals together will save the state money.

When someone overdoses on drugs, their respiration usually is depressed, which — if it doesn’t kill the victim — can lead to brain injuries that could land them on government disability rolls or, worse, land them on life support for years. The faster victims get medical attention, the more likely they are to pull through in good health, he says.

As drug fatalities have risen in recent years, a majority of states have passed similar measures.

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have such Good Samaritan laws in effect to protect those who call 911 when someone has overdosed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have passed laws with the aim of making naloxone more readily accessible.  

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