Story by Ashley Probst
I listened intently as my friends frantically recounted an incident in which someone had overdosed on synthetic marijuana and needed to be escorted to the hospital in an ambulance.
Although the overdose victim did receive medical attention, my friends made a point to mention the discussion that arose when someone first suggested calling 911. The other drug paraphernalia spread throughout their residence made them feel uneasy about contacting the police, and they almost didn’t.
This wasn’t the first time I heard of my peers being afraid to call authorities because they didn’t want to get in trouble with the law. But what those people don’t realize is the real danger comes when they remain silent.
There were approximately 46,500 drug-induced deaths in the United States over the course of 2013, which is a six percent increase from 2012 according to data released in January by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accidental drug overdose is the second leading cause of injury-related deaths among young people, exceeding the amount of incidents that involve firearms, homicides and HIV/AIDS, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
Researchers in New York City did a study on drug overdoses and interviewed 1,184 heroin, crack and cocaine users to assess the circumstances of instances when they may have witnessed an overdose. Results showed that about 57 percent of drug users had witnessed at least one heroin-related overdose and only about 68 percent of those people said someone at the scene called for medical assistance.
The most common reason that people gave for waiting to call 911, or worse, not calling at all? Fear of how the police would respond.
Since this study was published, New York and 19 other states including California, and the District of Columbia, have passed a 911 Good Samaritan law which will “protect the caller and overdose victim from arrest and/or prosecution for simple drug possession, possession of paraphernalia and being under the influence,” according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
If this law had existed at the time of the study, many people within the 42 percent of drug users who didn’t call 911 would have chosen a different path that valued a human life over fear of imprisonment. However, the Good Samaritan law doesn’t protect citizens against more serious offenses, such as selling or trafficking drugs, or driving under the influence. Because of this there would still be a few selfish individuals who wouldn’t call for help, but that would be a reflection of the poor life decisions they had already made.
Although the news is filled with stories about people being assaulted by police officers, it’s simply not fair to let one bad example skew the perception of an entire group of people whose main purpose is to help others. Emergency personnel are established within our society to protect citizens and keep them safe. When an overdose victim is involved, their first priority will be to stabilize that person and transport them to a hospital, not arrest a group of friends who just partied way too hard. You should never be punished for doing the right thing, and a majority of police officers understand that.
It’s crucial for everyone to know and understand the laws that are in existence to protect them because in cases like these, it really is a choice between life and death. No one should be afraid to call for help because overdose victims cannot save themselves, so it’s up to the people around them to take control of the situation. Dealing with a victim of a drug overdose is scary and something that no one wants to experience, but imagine if you were the victim—you would want your loved ones to do everything in their power to keep you alive.
If you are ever faced with a situation of this nature: Be the hero. Don’t hesitate to call 911 because the longer it takes for the overdose victim to receive medical attention, the more likely it is that they won’t survive. When help arrives, disclose every substance that the overdose victim consumed that day, or at least as much as you can remember, so they can be treated properly.
This wasn’t the first incident I heard of where people were afraid to call for help, but hopefully it will be the last.