Lawmakers consider expanding immunity for Good Samaritans in face of opioid epidemic


COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – A bill going through the Ohio General Assembly closes loopholes that could prevent someone from trying to save a life during an overdose.

Back in 2016, Governor John Kasich signed a bill that enacted the Good Samaritan Law in Ohio.

If someone is present during an overdose, they can call for help and be immune to drug possession charges when first responders show up with that help.

However, unlike a similar law from New York, drug paraphernalia and instruments used to administer the drugs are not covered by the current law.

“The 9th District Court decided that immunity strictly is limited to possession of controlled substances,” said State Representative Tavia Galonski during the first hearing of her bill to rectify that situation.

A former prosecutor said they instructed police officers who found themselves in that situation to arrest people on possession of the paraphernalia and instruments charges instead of the possession of drugs they were immune to prosecution over.

Galonski says that has to stop because it is preventing some addicts from getting help for those who are dying.

“If you get that first time user, that first time terrified kid, instead of leaving their buddy to die maybe they’ll actually make the call; and if they know that they don’t have to fear that law enforcement full handcuffs, then maybe they will make a call,” Galonski said.

The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association says it is likely to oppose the bill. They say the current law has problems as it is, and until those problems are fixed they don’t think it should be expanded.

They did not detail what the problems with the law are.

Galonski tried to get ahead of critics by saying the law is not perfect but it is saving lives and her expansion of the immunity to cover the paraphernalia and instruments will only make it easier for more lives to be saved.

And she says the law would not be without restrictions and safeguards against abuse.

“Two times only. We’re not going to keep making these referrals indefinitely,” Galonski said.

Putting a cap on the number of times the immunity can be applied is necessary, because ultimately this law is about giving people a chance to recover.

“Nobody’s going to get to that point if they’re dead and the point of the law originally. ‘911, we have an emergency. We need you to come and save lives.’ We don’t want to put a chilling effect on that,” Galonski said. “To truly help those suffering from the disease of addiction, we need to encourage them to reach out for assistance without fear.”

State Representative Phil Plummer, a former sheriff and the vice chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee where the bill is being heard, appears to support it at this time. He says it is ridiculous that there is a program that gives out free syringes to addicts so they don’t share dirty needles and open themselves up to diseases and then we turn around and bust them for having the needles when an overdose happens.

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