Faculty, students discuss ‘Good Samaritan’ drug laws and policies
Dave Dolan experienced something no student ever wants to endure. In 2002, his roommate overdosed the morning after a night of partying.
Dolan and his roommate had been partying, and when he awoke, his roommate’s skin was blue while vomit streamed from his mouth. Dolan’s other roommates and he tried to give the roommate CPR and then finally, after five minutes, they called 911.
“We were told that my friend had passed away hours before emergency medical services arrived and that there was nothing we could have done,” Dolan told The Drug Policy Alliance in a blog post titled, "My Story."
The Rutgers alumnus emphasized that he and his roommates decided to wait five minutes before calling the authorities because they feared being arrested for possession of drugs.
Following his roommate’s death, Dolan said he spiraled into emotional distress and heavy drug use.
“Before entering recovery, I overdosed four times and was lucky to have survived. Often, the people I was using drugs with would not call for an ambulance for fear that they would be arrested,” Dolan said, calling “Good Samaritan law” into attention.
The Good Samaritan law, which offers legal protection from arrest for those who call 911 in the event of an overdose.
The Overdose Prevention Act that Dolan mentions in his story was signed into law in 2013, and was a victory in the aid of preventing deaths by overdose, said Lisa Laitman, director of Alcohol and Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) at Rutgers.
“People were a little more anxious about giving people protection when it came to drugs (prior to the law in 2013), but the law was passed, and through the help of a lot of parents who have lost their children to drug abuse,” Laitman said.
Before the Overdose Prevention Act was passed, Rutgers had a similar policy with a "Good Samaritan" component because staff knew it was a life-saving intervention, Laitman said.
“(The help is important) for anyone, because it really protects you and really says if you call for help for somebody, you’re not going to be in trouble,” she said.
Kamil Sochacki, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said he was not aware this sort of law existed and the impression he gets is the law should in someway be conditional.
“What I mean is that following an incident, the person who overdosed should be required to enroll in some form of a sobriety program,” Sochacki said. “This would be in effect to prevent or limit the chance for future overdoses.”
The policy of encouraging people to call for help has been long-standing at the university and it has actually prevented many deaths, Laitman said.
“Everything we do to get this word out is very important," she said. "When you’re worried about someone and you’re at a party or you’re at an off-campus apartment or you’re in a dorm, you can call for help, you’re not going to get in trouble."
It is a good idea to eliminate the fear associated with getting in trouble by the police during a medical emergency, Sochacki said.
The importance of having laws and resources known and available at Rutgers is to help students when they need it most, Sochacki said.
The several different resources available at the university for any alcohol or drug related assistance, including confidential counseling and an on-campus resident hall for students who are in recovery from addiction, Laitman said.
“All of my staff, including myself, are licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselors, and because of our license, we have to abide by federal regulations that protect people’s privacy, and so confidential counseling is often a really important aspect for people who have substance problems,” Latiman said. “Because people are worried about getting into trouble.”