It's been called an epidemic. The rise of prescription drug abuse and the resurgence of heroin has led to a spike in overdose deaths in Oklahoma over the last ten years. But a new bill, set to be brought to the state legislature, would aim to reduce those numbers.
It's called a Good Samaritan Law and would allow those around for an overdose to call 911 without fearing they'll go to jail, even if they have drugs on them or in their system.
While the law protects callers committing misdemeanors and felonies, its shielding has a limit. Any caller caught with an amount of drugs that constitutes trafficking amounts could still face charges.
Twenty-eight states already have Good Samaritan Laws, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health Legislative Liaison Carter Kimble. The law would be the next step in a line of measures taken in recent years by state officials, including the extension of the opioid blocking drug Naloxone to EMT and first responders as well as to over the counter sales.
“The law simply states that if I contact law enforcement, I stay with the person that's overdosed and I am cooperative with law enforcement when they arrive,” Kimble said. He added it’s modeled after a 2013 law that allows minors to call about alcohol poisoning without repercussion.
Law enforcement also supports the bill. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics spokesperson said they’ve known about talks for the bill for some time and it would be a benefit for officers and agents, as well as addicts.
“If you can have people stick around and have people feel comfortable sharing with police and also first responders what happened rather than running out the back door for fear they're going to get prosecuted then that can only help,” Mark Woodward of OBN said.
According to OSDH, since1999, state overdoses have quadrupled. Last year 864 people died from drug overdoses, 715 were accidental. Oklahoma also ranks in sixth in the nation for unintentional overdoses.
The law also has research and investigative benefits, but ultimately, officials say it's about helping someone on the brink of death.
“The first thought shouldn't be whether to pick up the phone or not,” Kimble said. “It should be I need to get this person help and we can save lives, I think we can.”
The law is expected to be brought up in the next round of the legislature. Kimble said OSDH already has two authors, one in the state house and one in the senate, to author and sponsor the bill.