The Problems With Ohio's New Heroin 'Good Samaritan' Law, Which Takes Effect Today: Op-Ed


Update: The law takes effect today. Below, an op-ed from Aaron Marks, who works with the Heroin and Opioid Task Force led by the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Northern District of Ohio, on the law's multiple shortcomings.


(Original story 6/15/16): Good Samaritan legislation was signed into law in Ohio on Monday. While we should be excited that the legislature has taken steps to protect people who are experiencing a medical emergency as a result of their drug use, we still have work to do.

The "Good Samaritan" tagline refers to prosecutorial immunity granted to 9-1-1 callers who report a friend or family member overdosing on drugs. (The person overdosing is also granted immunity.) Historically, prosecutors have leveled misdemeanor and low-level felony charges against those who report overdoses and those who overdose.

State Reps. Robert Sprague and Denise Driehaus are certainly allies and have tried very hard to get this legislation passed. Unfortunately, there have been consistent forces that stood in their way. Those voices proved too much to silence, and provisions were added to appease them. We found ourselves in a battle for something or nothing. Most people felt something was better than nothing, and thus the new Good Samaritan Law was born.

While on the surface it looks to do the same thing, in reality it does not.

Immunity is only available on two occasions under this law. It requires that you receive an assessment within 30 days or you will be subject to arrest. It mandates that medical professionals share sensitive information if requested by the police. These provisions have the potential of causing more harm than good. They perpetuate an idea that this is a criminal justice issue, and not the public health crisis that it is. They ignore the desperate shortage of available treatment while requiring people seek help. They insinuate that someone suffering from addiction has the ability to just flip a switch and get better.

People are dying in record numbers, and I fear this is just the beginning. It is time to be bold. It is time to stop trying ideas that don't work. We can't arrest our way out of this. It is time to stop viewing this as a criminal justice issue and start treating it as what it is: a public health emergency.

Contact the governor's office, your senator's office, your representatives, your local police chiefs, your prosecutors, the media. Let them know you want real Good Samaritan legislation. Let them know you want our brothers and sisters to be treated as people who need help, not a jail cell. Stay strong, and stay vocal.

Aaron D. Marks works with the Heroin and Opioid Task Force led by the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Northern District of Ohio.

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