‘Good Samaritan’ law advances in Florida Legislature
By State Sen. Maria Sachs, District 30
TALLAHASSEE — We are currently facing a crisis of drug-related overdose deaths. The number of drug overdose deaths has been steadily increasing in Florida for years.
In 2009, nearly 3,000 people died from a drug overdose, an increase of 38 percent since 2006. In almost 80 percent of these cases, common prescription drugs were found in the victims system.
In Palm Beach County alone, in 2007, we lost over 300 people to accidental drug overdoses. That’s nearly three times as many people than were victims of homicide.
Consider the number of people traveling in cars every day for an entire year, then consider the number of lives lost due to motor vehicle accidents was 228, which is 35 percent less than lives lost to drug-overdose.
The tragedy of these deaths is made even more poignant when you consider how many could be easily prevented. In a majority of drug-related overdoses, the person is not alone. Yet, witnesses often do not seek out medical attention out of fear of being charged with a crime.
In November, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office came to me with these startling and heartrending statistics, seeking a solution. With their help, I developed and sponsored the Good Samaritan Bill. This bill prevents needless loss of life and allows our law enforcement officers to focus on serious criminal activity.
The 911 Good Samaritan bill seeks to protect a person acting in good faith from prosecution (in certain circumstances) when seeking medical assistance for an individual experiencing a drug-related overdose.
Similar Good Samaritan laws have passed in Washington (2010) and New Mexico (2007). These statutes do not protect witnesses or victims from prosecution on other offenses, nor do they increase illicit drug use. The intent of such legislation is to save lives by encouraging people to seek help during a medical emergency.
Good Samaritan policies have also been put into place at over 90 universities across the United States, including several in Florida such as Lynn University and University of Tampa. Associate Dean of Student Life at Lynn University and Palm Beach County Detective Gary Martin has spoken out repeatedly on the incredible effectiveness of such legislation in saving lives.
“These deaths don’t happen in seclusion” said Martin. That’s one of the reasons we think lives could be saved with this legislation.”
As your state senator, I am dedicated to working with our law enforcement to develop smart, effective policies that keep our citizens safe and prevent needless loss of life.
Editor’s Note: As of April 11, 2011, Senator Sachs’ Good Samaritan Bill (SB 1146) successfully passed its first two committees with unanimous support. After being reviewed by the budget committee, the bill will be up for final vote in the Senate Chambers. If passed, the legislation will go into effect on October 1, 2011.