The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


December 19, 2013

New weapon in drug war | Bill would shield witnesses to overdoses

JOHNSTOWN — If the state House does its part, Pennsylvania will join a handful of other states in trying to combat what has been termed an “epidemic” level of drug overdose deaths.

Witnesses to a drug overdose could call for emergency help without the threat of being arrested on drug use or possession charges once the police are on the scene.

The Good Samaritan bill sailed through the state Senate last week. If approved by the House, the bill would provide another tool in the battle to eradicate the burgeoning problem of illicit drug use.

Deaths by overdosing on drugs claims more lives than vehicular crashes, health experts say. Accidental overdose deaths have claimed 1,909 lives in 2011, according to the Department of Transportation and the Department of Health. Car crashes have caused 1,286 deaths.

Researchers at the University of Washington interviewed drug users after that state passed a Good Samaritan law and found that 88 percent said they knew about the law and were more likely to call for help. And 42 percent said they had been present during a serious overdose.

We doubt that there is a municipality, big or small, in the state that has not seen some type of illicit drug activity. In Johnstown, the Moxham, West End and Oakhurst sections come to mind immediately.

Rep. Kurt Masser, R-Northumberland, called the drug problem a “cancer” and urged lawmakers to come up with a solution to the strategy.

“What we are doing is not working,” he said. “Every day we don’t address it, we are losing more kids.

“The answers aren’t easy. If they were, we’d have come up with them already.”

One element missing from Pennsylvania’s shield law that other states provide is for the use of Naxalone, a drug that can be administered to counter the effects of an overdose. However, Senate leaders are open to discussing the addition of Naxalone as the bill weaves its way through the House.

We hope that the law would encourage more drug users to call 911 when they see someone suffering in the throes of a drug overdose.

We applaud the effort of the Legislature to address the growing issue of illegal drug use. We also encourage all efforts by educators, law-enforcement personnel and others to reach out to our youth and teach them about the hazards and deadly consequences of illicit drug use. And we would hope more could be done to break the peer-pressure chain among our young people to experiment with illegal drugs.


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