SWINDLE COLUMN: Medical Amnesty Law Saves Lives

Published 4:11 pm Tuesday, November 9, 2021

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Each year, I have at least two clients die from a drug overdose. Notifying a mother that her son is dead is an experience that I would not wish on anyone.

When someone is having a drug overdose, others who witnesses it are frozen with fear. This reminds me of the scene in Pulp Fiction when the young person was overdosing and no one wanted to call 911. Fear prevented the call.This law takes away that fear and gives overdose victims a second chance at life.

Georgia loses more than 1,000 people each year to drug overdoses. The purpose of the new law is that it will help reduce these premature deaths and offer an opportunity for treatment to those struggling with addiction.

In 2014, Georgia decided to address the issue of widespread overdoses. House Bill 965, Georgia 9-1-1 Medical Amnesty Law (MAL) was passed by overwhelming majorities in the state House and Senate and was signed by Governor Nathan Deal on April 24, 2014. The law went into effect immediately and provides that anyone seeking medical assistance for themselves or someone else for a drug overdose cannot be charged with a drug violation if the evidence of the drug violation results “solely from seeking such medical assistance.”

More specifically, this law provides protection for people who call 911 and seek medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug or alcohol-related overdose. The caller and the victim cannot be arrested, charged, or prosecuted for small amounts of drugs, alcohol, or drug paraphernalia if the evidence was obtained as a result of seeking medical assistance.

The law also increases access to the opioid overdose “antidote” naloxone, also called Narcan. Narcan is an effective, non-addictive prescription medication that reverses opioid drug overdose. The timely administration of naloxone can reverse the effects of opiates such as heroin and opioids like hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and others. Victims of opioid overdose who receive naloxone in time are less likely to die or suffer long-term brain or tissue damage.

Under MAL, a unit dose of naloxone can be delivered either by the intranasal or intramuscular route using a specified applicator.

Phycisians may prescribe naloxone to a family member, friend, or other person in a position to assist someone at risk of opioid overdose, and to first responders, harm reduction organizations, and pain management clinics.

The law further allows for a naloxone prescription to be issued to members of the public at large who are themselves at risk or who are in a position to assist a person at risk.

Additionally, the bill establishes limited civil and criminal immunity for medical professionals who prescribe naloxone and laypeople who administer it to a person suspected of suffering from an opioid overdose.

The bill also provides limited immunity from certain underage drinking offenses for minors who seek help in the event of an alcohol overdose.

Pharmacists are also permitted to dispense Narcan under that prescription. The physician, pharmacist, and person administering naloxone are immune from civil, criminal, and professional liability as long as they act in good faith and in compliance with the applicable standard of care. Perhaps most importantly, MAL expands access to Narcan by authorizing trained first responders, including law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel to administer the medication.

Young people are dying in our community as a result of drug overdoses. Please share this information so that more lives can be saved.