Advocates: good Samaritan measure could do more to prevent overdose deaths

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Opioid abuse in Arizona 26 Jan. 2018 (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Opioid abuse in Arizona 26 Jan. 2018 (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Ducey's proposal bars doctors from prescribing more than an initial five-day supply of pain medication, boosts pain clinic regulation and adds $10 million to help uninsured people get addiction treatment. (Source: AP Photo/Matt York/CNN) Ducey's proposal bars doctors from prescribing more than an initial five-day supply of pain medication, boosts pain clinic regulation and adds $10 million to help uninsured people get addiction treatment. (Source: AP Photo/Matt York/CNN)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Gov. Doug Ducey signed a massive legislative package Friday to combat the opioid epidemic, but addiction and recovery advocates say a good Samaritan provision doesn’t go far enough to save lives. 

“I can’t think of a good reason why it’s not OK to call 911 and not get in trouble for it,” says Janice Morrison, who hosts regular meetings for those who have lost loved ones to addiction.

[RELATED: Arizona governor signs law he sought to target opioid abuse]

[RELATED: Opioids now kill more people than breast cancer]

Her son, Brett Morrison, is celebrating two years of sobriety and now works for a recovery center. Janice began pushing for a good Samaritan law years ago when he was arrested.

“He called 911 for a young man that [sic] had overdosed in the bathroom at a house and my son stayed there, talked to police,” says Janice. “Before the police got there, just intuitively, my son grabbed the paraphernalia and flushed it down the toilet and he told police. Ten months later there was an arrest warrant out for my son.”

The charge, Janice says, was hindering prosecution. She says Brett found himself facing that charge after he had begun his journey to recovery.

Part of the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act is intended to protect people who seek help for someone suffering an overdose. The text of the bill says the good Samaritan “may not be charged or prosecuted for the possession or use of a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia.” 

However, the text goes on to say the provision does not limit “the ability to seize contraband or make an arrest for any other offense.” 

“It's almost suggesting they will be looking for something else to arrest someone for,” says Janice. The new law would not have protected Brett because he faced a charge that was not drug-related.

Janice has become familiar with the legislative process, working with lawmakers through the years for good Samaritan protections. She says the new law is a step in the right direction, but without erasing all fears of prosecution, people avoid calling for life-saving assistance for someone who is overdosing.

She says it’s been difficult to pass an ideal good Samaritan law because of “shame and stigma.” Janice is currently pushing a measure offering more protections, but she says, the future of that bill is somewhat uncertain now that the governor’s measure has become law.

“You can't arrest the addiction out of them,” says Janice.  “If it saves one life, it’s worth it.”

[SPECIAL SECTION: Opioid Crisis In Arizona

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