Hoping to save lives

Experts, advocates address deadly drug overdoses and how to prevent them


It’s a situation no one ever envisions: caring for someone — stranger or friend — who overdoses on drugs or loses consciousness after drinking.

There are very few workshops, programs or tutorials focusing on how to handle such a situation, in which virtually no one wants to dial 911, for fear of getting caught up in illegal activity.

But dialing 911 is the single best thing you can do. In 2011, the State Legislature passed the 911 Good Samaritan Law, which provides a shield from prosecution for those who report a drug or alcohol-induced overdose to police.

The bill includes immunity from prosecution for underage drinkers as well as those who are found with up to 8 ounces of narcotics, any amount of marijuana or drug paraphernalia. It also prevents arrest for the possession of narcotics that would normally carry a misdemeanor charge — up to 3.5 grams of heroin or cocaine.

The problem, said Dr. Jeff Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, is that very few people are aware of the law. “The bill only works if people know about it,” he said.

On Feb. 14, Reynolds, elected officials and other advocates gathered in LICADD’s Mineola office for a press conference to raise awareness of the law. “If they don’t know about it and they fear prosecution,” Reynolds said, “they won’t call for help.”

The bill, passed in September 2011, made New York the fifth state with a Good Samaritan law, along with Connecticut, Illinois, New Mexico and Washington.

Assemblyman Joseph Saladino, who represents the 9th District, was one of its many co-sponsors, and attended the press conference to help spread the word. “Please use this opportunity …,” Saladino said. “Sit down with your children and let them know, if they ever see, witness, experience a drug overdose, call 911, it’s the right thing to do, they’ll be protected from prosecution, and we can save another life.”

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