General Assembly moves to reinstate legal protections related to overdoses

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Senate and House of Representatives have passed a bill aiming to protect people from criminal charges if they seek emergency medical help for an overdose.

The legislation, known as the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act, now heads to Gov. Gina Raimondo’s desk for her signature. She’s expected to sign the bill into law Wednesday afternoon.

The act originally passed in 2012 but expired July 1. It provided immunity from prosecution for drug possession if people report or render aid to a victim of an overdose, even if drugs are found at the scene.

The new bill expands protection, also exempting from liability any person who administers an opioid antagonist — often, the drug overdose antidote Narcan — to another person to prevent a drug overdose, as well as providing immunity for violating probation and/or parole if someone seeks medical assistance for a person experiencing a drug overdose.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Michael McCaffrey (D-Warwick) and Rep. Robert Craven (D-North Kingstown), who said it’s a way to help combat the ongoing opioid epidemic by removing the barriers that might prevent someone from calling 911 for help.

“Saving a life is much more important than a drug arrest,” Craven said in a statement. “Ultimately, nothing should ever discourage someone from trying to provide assistance to someone who is dying.”

“First and foremost, we’re concerned with saving lives. If someone knows that calling 911 is probably going to result in their going to jail, they’re going to be very hesitant to do it. Nobody benefits from that situation,” McCaffrey added. “The enforcement of drug laws matters, but for real public safety, saving lives has to come first. No one should be afraid to make a phone call to save a life.”

Rhode Island had more opioid deaths per capita in 2015 than any other state, according to the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.

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