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(TRENTON) - A compromise measure sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson, Connie Wagner, Pamela Lampitt, Thomas Giblin, Upendra Chivukula, Angel Fuentes and Reed Gusciora to help save lives and prevent drug overdoses was granted final legislative approval 68-2-6 by the General Assembly on Monday.
The compromise (S-2082) incorporates components of both the bill known as the "Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act" (A-3095), which was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Christie today and the "Good Samaritan Act" (A-578), which was conditionally vetoed by Christie last fall.
The new measure would provide immunity for witnesses and victims of drug overdoses in order to help get timely medical treatment; and also provide civil, criminal, and professional immunity for health care professionals involved in prescribing, dispensing, or administering naloxone or any similarly acting, FDA-approved drug for the treatment of an opioid overdose.
"This is a sensible and life-saving compromise that many other states have already employed to great effect." said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "By encouraging the wider distribution of naloxone or similarly acting drugs to those at risk of a narcotics overdose we can substantially reduce the number of related overdose deaths."
"Deaths from drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey, but many of these deaths could be prevented if medical assistance were sought immediately without the fear of arrest or prosecution," said Wagner (D-Bergen). "It's my hope that this legislation will not only save lives, but also provide a moment of clarity to help many with substance abuse problems turn their lives around."
In incorporating the components of the Good Samaritan Act, the bill would protect a person from arrest, charge, prosecution, or conviction if, in good faith, they sought medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose, and the evidence for the offense was obtained as a result of the person's efforts to obtain the medical assistance. The same prosecutorial immunity would also apply for a victim of a drug overdose who sought medical assistance or was the subject of a good faith request for such assistance.
In incorporating, the Opioid Antidote and Overdose Prevention Act, the lawmakers noted that naloxone is an inexpensive and easily administered antidote for an overdose of opioids, such as morphine, heroin, OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. Specifically, naloxone is used to counteract life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system, allowing an overdose victim to breathe normally.
"There is empirical evidence to show that naloxone and similar drugs save lives," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "We should do everything we can to make sure these drugs are available to help prevent unnecessary deaths and hopefully give people battling addiction a second chance at life."
In addition to providing immunity for health care professionals who administer the antidote, the bill would also provide immunity for other individuals if the action was taken during an emergency, and the person believed in good faith that another person was experiencing an opioid overdose.
"Statistics show that states without an opioid overdose prevention program have far higher overdose death rates than others," said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). "And in the case of an overdose, fear and panic often cloud a person's judgment. This legislation would incorporate a responsible approach to make sure these life-saving drugs or timely medical assistance are given to those who need it most."
According to a study released last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since 1996 naloxone has reversed 10,171 drug overdoses, saving thousands of lives. The CDC also noted that 19 (76%) of the 25 states with 2008 drug overdose death rates higher than the median and nine (69.2%) of the 13 states in the highest quartile did not have a community-based opioid overdose prevention program that distributed naloxone.
"This measure is intended to encourage individuals witnessing a potential drug overdose to seek medical attention for the victim by insulating them from criminal prosecution," said Chivukula (D-Middlesex/Somerset).
"This is not about turning a blind eye to drug use, but hopefully saving lives during a potentially fatal overdose," said Fuentes (D-Camden). "And once they are in the hands of medical professionals, hopefully they will receive the additional help they need to overcome any addictions."
"A drug overdose can sometimes be the clarion call an addict needs to seek help to overcome their addiction, but only if they survive, that is," said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). "This measure will help save lives and turn them around."
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"When you're asked to cast a vote on a bill and it seems innocuous, and it's got a hidden land mine that perhaps only an expert would see, it would sort of behoove those experts to tell us in advance rather than make us look, shall we say, a little bit indecisive later on." - Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-25).- NJTV
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