TRENTON – The Senate took action today on legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale, Senator Richard J. Codey, and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg that would ensure those experiencing a drug overdose receive the medical attention they need to survive.
“With the Senate’s actions today, we are one step closer to ensuring that no one else needlessly dies because they did not have access to medication or emergency assistance to stop a drug overdose,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “Too many New Jersey families have had to endure the death of a loved one from an overdose, many of whom could have been saved if bystanders were not fearful that they would be arrested and prosecuted for petty crimes. Hopefully this bill will remove that fear and end their hesitation in reaching out for emergency help to save someone’s life.”
The Senate voted 24-1 on S-2082, now known as the Overdose Prevention Act, to concur with the Governor’s recommendations. The bill would incorporate into the Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act aspects of the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act, S-851/A-578, which the Governor conditionally vetoed in October, replacing the language with a call to study the New Jersey’s overdose problem for 18 months.
The bill approved by the Senate today would encourage the broader use of opioid overdose antidotes – such as naloxone – by eliminating the possibility of negative legal action against health care professionals who prescribe and dispense or bystanders who administer the life-saving medication. The bill would provide civil and criminal immunity as well as professional immunity for doctors and pharmacists for prescribing, dispensing or administering naloxone or similar opioid antidote drugs.
“Often people experiencing an overdose are in the company of others, who could help save their life,” said Senator Codey, D-Essex and Morris. “By removing barriers that could keep someone from either administering a life-saving dose of naloxone or calling 9-1-1 for help, we are providing overdose victims with a second chance. Hopefully, with the right support and treatment, these victims can get clean and live a long and healthy life.”
Provisions of the Good Samaritan Response Act incorporated into the bill would provide limited immunity for certain individuals who in good faith seek medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose. Neither the overdose victim nor the individual who seeks medical assistance for the victim could be arrested, charged, prosecuted or convicted for obtaining, possessing, using or being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance, possessing drug paraphernalia or needles, inhaling or possessing any toxic chemical, or unlawfully obtaining, attempting to obtain or possessing prescription drugs. The bill would treat the fact that the person sought medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose as a mitigating factor in a prosecution for other drug-related offenses. Additionally, they would receive immunity from the revocation of parole or probation.
“I am pleased that the Governor has come around to the fact that we don’t need to study legislation that is effectively preventing overdose deaths in eleven other states, but rather we need action to prevent more New Jerseyans from dying,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “This measure aligns our laws with our values that saving someone’s life is more important that prosecuting either the victim or the person who does the right thing by calling for help.”
The bill is expected to be approved by the General Assembly today and then will head to the Governor for his signature.