K eith Henderson is a recovering heroin addict. Today he works as a peer volunteer at Aids Community Resources in Syracuse. Several years ago, Henderson says he was thrown in jail by Utica Police because he made a call to 9-1-1 to save the life of an overdose victim.
Henderson told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon that he has witnessed first hand what often happens when people are afraid to help a drug abuser. " W hat they do is ... put them out in the hallway or leave them in a tub and leave the apartment... basically leaving them to die."
D rug overdose , either by prescription drug abuse or by illegal narcotics, is the number one cause of accidental death in New York State. One reason is that people are often reluctant to call 9-1-1 to help an overdose victim for fear the police will charge them with a crime. According to Gabriel Sayegh of the Drug Policy Alliance, "People don't call for help. They tend to be afraid. Instead of getting a ride in the back of an ambulance, they're going to get a ride in the back of a police car."
T wo years ago , S tate Senator John DeFrancisco ushered through the state legislature, the "911 Good Samaritan Law. On Friday, DeFrancisco joined with those who work with substance abusers to raise awareness about the Good Samaritan Law. It protects you from being prosecuted for possession of drugs or alcohol if you call 9-1-1 to get help for an overdose victim. "Saving lives must be paramount ...that's really the bottom line." DeFrancisco told reporters.
The State Health Department is distributing posters and wallet cards to inform people about the law and provide tips on how to report an overdose.
The Senator says the law does not ties the hands of police when a drug overdose points to a larger crime. "The people who are doing something illegal shouldn't be worried about calling, but... if it turns out to be part of a much bigger operation, that is not protected by the bill."
T he movement to protect those who report drug overdoses is growing. 12 other states have similar Good Samaritan Laws.