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Initiative protects people who report overdoses
TRENTON – “Save a life. Don’t think twice, just call 911.”

That’s the public awareness message the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services launched today in an effort to reduce the number of drug overdoses in New Jersey by protecting people who report them from criminal prosecution. The campaign announcement follows the Acting Attorney General’s directive that law enforcement throughout New Jersey comply with the requirements of the “Overdose Prevention Act”.

The statute – known as the Good Samaritan Law – was signed on May 2, 2013 by Governor Christie. The campaign aims to encourage people to immediately call emergency or medical personnel if they suspect someone is overdosing from illegal or prescription drugs.

“We need to get the word out that, in the vast majority of cases, a person is now immune from prosecution if they try to save someone from overdosing, even if they are using a drug themselves,” DHS Commissioner Jennifer Velez said. “In many cases, people don’t report overdoses because they are afraid they will be arrested and charged with a crime. That fear can risk a life. Many overdoses can be treated with swift medical intervention.”

In addition to radio interviews and widespread distribution of information about the new law to community-based programs, DHS’ initiative also includes outreach to schools, colleges, drug treatment facilities, medical personnel, and behavioral health professionals. The Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services has spearheaded an overdose prevention committee and partnered with the Governor’s Council on Alcohol and Drug Addiction to continue developing a widespread, detailed outreach aimed at reducing overdoses.

“Governor Christie has sent a clear message that he wants to save lives and in most cases, forego prosecution of people who are present during an overdose situation,” said Commissioner Velez. “I think this message will resonate throughout the community.”

The law reads that the Legislature finds and declares that encouraging witnesses and victims of drug overdoses to seek medical assistance saves lives and is in the best interests of the citizens of this State and, in instances where evidence was obtained as a result of seeking of medical assistance, these witnesses and victims should be protected from arrest, charge, prosecution, conviction, and revocation of parole or probation for possession or use of illegal drugs. It is not the intent of the Legislature to protect individuals from arrest, prosecution or conviction for other criminal offenses, including engaging in drug trafficking.

The legislation defines a drug overdose as “an acute condition including, but not limited to, physical illness, coma, mania, hysteria, or death resulting from the consumption or use of a controlled dangerous substance or another substance with which a controlled dangerous substance was combined and that a layperson would reasonably believe to require medical assistance.”

The new law also encourages wider prescription of antidotes that can counteract opioid overdoses.

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