Virginia needs medical amnesty policies

Brooke Napier
Guest Columnist

Drug-overdose-related deaths are a major public health problem that need to be addressed.

Nationally, drug overdose fatalities more than doubled between 1999 and 2005. In Virginia, overdose is now one of the leading causes of accidental deaths, second only to motor vehicle accidents. Almost 3,000 people died from drug overdoses in Virginia between 2005 and 2009. More than 550 people died from drug overdoses in Virginia in 2009 alone.

The worst part? Many of these deaths are preventable. Fatalities from a typical overdose situation usually result because victims do not get the simple, life-saving medical help that they need quickly enough. Commonly, overdose victims do not actually die until one to three hours after they have initially taken a drug. In addition to this, most of these deaths occur in the presence of others.

Unfortunately, the fear of arrest and prosecution prevents many people from calling for medical assistance. To remove barriers to calling 911 and encourage people to seek emergency medical assistance for overdoses, states are enacting good samaritan and medical amnesty laws that provide limited legal protections for those who call 911.

A medical amnesty policy is a life-saving measure that would encourage people to make responsible decisions by offering them limited immunities if they call for medical help during an overdose emergency relating to alcohol or other drugs. Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Washington, Utah, Illinois and Texas – as well as 100 colleges and universities around the country – have all implemented some form of a medical amnesty policy to break down the barriers to calling for help. VCU is not on the list.

The reality of the situation now is that many people are dying from accidental overdoses, and that number grows every year. If there is any policy we could enact to curb this growing problem, it should be seriously considered.

A medical amnesty policy is not a “get-out-of-jail-free card.” It simply protects those who make the mature and responsible decision to call for help. Calling for help should never be a crime. With the high numbers of accidental overdose Virginia sees every year, there is a real need for a medical amnesty policy. State representatives should be urged to help save a life and enact a medical amnesty policy.

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