Good Samaritan Law in Arizona
In the past, people who called 911 to report that they were with someone who had overdosed on heroin could be charged if they were also using drugs. This led to many people being afraid to call for help when others overdosed, leading to many deaths. In order to combat this and other problems that have come with the opioid epidemic, Arizona passed a law called the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act on Jan. 25, 2018, and Gov. Ducey signed the bill into law on Jan. 26. This law makes some important changes in addition to protecting people who call 911 to report overdoses in order to help to curb the opioid epidemic in the state.
Background of the Good Samaritan Law in Arizona
Between 2013 and 2017, deaths from opioid overdoses in Arizona rose by 74 percent, prompting Gov. Ducey to declare a state of emergency in June 2017. The Arizona Department of Health Services surveyed health care professionals, and a majority responded that they believed that a 911 Good Samaritan law would help to fight the opioid crisis in the state. Just since June of 2017, 5,500 Arizonans have died from deaths that are suspected to be related to opiates, according to Arizona PBS. Others who may be using with people who overdose are often afraid to try to get help out of a fear that they will go to prison. The good Samaritan provisions of the Opioid Epidemic Act allow people to call 911 to get help for others who are overdosing without fear of being arrested for possessing or using drugs. If they have warrants, however, they may be taken into custody for those, and the law enforcement officers are allowed to gather the drugs and paraphernalia that they find in the homes.
Why the Good Samaritan Law in Arizona Was Enacted
Arizona is the 41st state to enact a 911 good Samaritan law. These laws have been passed in a majority of the states to encourage people who witness others who are overdosing to call for help. Law enforcement officers may carry Narcan or Naloxone with them. These antidotes to opioids can help to prevent death when they are administered soon after the person begins overdosing on the drugs. By encouraging people to call 911, the state hopes that fewer people will die from overdosing on heroin and other opioids because they will receive help much faster than they otherwise might.
The act passed unanimously in both houses of the legislature before being quickly signed into law by the governor. The passage of the law signals that the state is taking a new approach to combating the opioid epidemic. Instead of treating it solely as a criminal justice issue, the law helps to refocus the approach to treating the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis.
Other Provisions of the Opioid Epidemic Act
In addition to the 911 good Samaritan provision that is contained in the act, the Opioid Epidemic Act does several other things to help stem the tide of the opioid epidemic. Under the new law, doctors in Arizona are not able to prescribe more than pain medications to patients for more than five days. The governor cited a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in support of this provision. According to the CDC, receiving three days worth of pain medications is often sufficient for the management of pain. There are a few limited exceptions to this provision such as when someone is suffering from conditions that cause ongoing pain, have been injured in accidents or have serious health conditions such as cancer.
The law also provides criminal penalties for drug manufacturers who commit fraud. Paper prescriptions for addictive drugs such as Oxycontin will no longer be acceptable. Instead, the prescriptions for these powerful drugs will need to be submitted electronically from the doctors' offices directly to the pharmacies. Doctors who overprescribe opioid medications will face the potential of losing their licenses under the new law.
Auxiliary officials, including probation officers, police aides and county health officials will be able to carry naloxone so that they can administer it if someone overdoses around them. The law authorizes $10 million to be used for people who are struggling with addiction and who do not have insurance so that they can get the treatment that they need.
The Opioid Epidemic Act and its 911 good Samaritan provision is sure to help to save some lives in Arizona. People who witness someone who is beginning to overdose should promptly call 911 without fear that they will be arrested. Those who are struggling with addictions to heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids should promptly seek help from a licensed and accredited addiction treatment facility.