Today Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic state senators reached a compromise on a piece of legislation that allows people to report a drug overdoes to 911 without fear of arrest. Called the Good Samaritan bill, the legislation is actually two proposals merged into one since Christie conditionally vetoed the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act last fall when he said it was too narrow in scope. Democratic Sen. Joseph Vitale, chair of the Health Committee, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider this latest legislation is necessary to help prevent overdose death, which is the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey.
In addition to granting immunity to the person who calls 911, the legislation also allows for parents, family members and peers of drug addicted individuals to get a prescription for an antidote, according to Vitale. “So they would essentially be able to give them the antidote to have available in the event one of their loved ones, their peers overdose. So it’s an omnibus overdose prevention bill and a lifesaving bill as well,” he said.
Vitale said overdose has been a problem for many years and it can be under-discovered and under-reported. He explained that often people will leave the scene if they’re engaging in illegal drugs or alcohol if they’re underage. He said, oftentimes, the individual left behind ultimately dies. “Statistically, it actually happens more often than we think, whether it’s on college campuses or in private homes around the state,” he said.
The issue first came to the attention of lawmakers from the Drug Policy Alliance and relatives of individuals who died from drug overdoses, according to Vitale. He said several other states, including New York, have similar laws in place and people asked New Jersey lawmakers to consider implementing it.
“We did the research and did all the due diligence and ultimately common sense and compassion and good data came together to make a good piece of legislation and a good law,” Vitale said.
While it’s difficult to estimate how many lives could be saved with the Good Samaritan law, Vitale said statistics show several hundred people die every few years from overdoses and through conversations with emergency room doctors and nurses he has learned that many times 15 or 30 minutes difference in administration of medical care can mean the difference between life and death.
“In many cases, they were discovered by someone who wasn’t part of the drug taking and it was too late by the time they got to an emergency room or got medical attention. So it happens. It’s the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey — more than car accidents, more than gun deaths,” Vitale said.
Vitale is also a key player in the university merger, which is underway in New Jersey and scheduled to be completed July 1. He is confident that all the pieces will be in place by the July deadline. Currently, he said officials are working on the financial aspects of the merger, such as whether the state will have to put in more money than originally expected.
“But in terms of the important elements of the merger — getting the medical school up and running, having the classes on schedule and doing the other elements that are important to making sure it happens — we’re on schedule,” Vitale said.
Some have questioned whether the recent troubles at Rutgers with the firing of basketball coach Mike Rice and the resignation of Athletic Director Tim Pernetti have been such a distraction that it might affect the merger progress. But Vitale said he’s confident that all the aspects will fall into place.
“The key players are the university president and his staff and his team and the folks at UMDNJ, the governor’s office, members of the legislature who were involved in this process. We talk every so often but they meet and talk about this every day. So it’s not just urgent, it’s on schedule. And I think most of it will happen by the deadline of July 1,” Vitale said.