Good Samaritan Law saves lives

Posted 5/13/21

Opioids aren’t the only drugs contributing to the rise in overdose deaths. Overdose deaths from prescription sedatives known as benzodiazepines or “benzos” are also on the rise.

However, …

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Good Samaritan Law saves lives

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Posted

Opioids aren’t the only drugs contributing to the rise in overdose deaths. Overdose deaths from prescription sedatives known as benzodiazepines or “benzos” are also on the rise.

However, less attention and education are focused on their dangers in comparison to opioids. Benzos include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, which are commonly prescribed for anxiety and insomnia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines rose 830% from 1999 to 2017.

The rise in deaths parallels the increase in benzodiazepine prescriptions. With more of these drugs being prescribed, benzos are easily accessible in family medicine cabinets and on the streets. This accessibility as well as the incorrect perception among many that benzos are safe drugs — especially safer than opioids — helps fuel their misuse.

Julie Boone Cummins discovered firsthand how prevalent benzos like Xanax are in the community. Her son, Boone Cummins, started experimenting with them in high school — as did many of his peers. Cummins said she learned friends on social media competed with each other over how many Xanax they could take and would post about it — content that earned lots of likes. Cummins said she finds the glorification of Xanax in popular culture and social media to be problematic in normalizing it and portraying a false sense of safety. She said at the time, she and her son both did not realize the seriousness of Xanax and how addictive it can become.

On July 19, 2017 — the night Boone died — Cummins said friends dropped him off by the local quarry after he had taken high doses of Xanax. They thought Boone would be fine, not realizing the dangers of the drug. As he was at the quarry alone, Cummins said he sent texts and social media calls for others to join him to memorialize Sean O’Donnell, his best friend who died six weeks earlier at the quarry. Sean died after passing out from alcohol consumption and drowning in the water when his friends left him alone. Similarly, Boone was left alone, and Cummins said she believes he rolled into the water and drowned due to his inability to swim in his compromised condition.

In both cases, no one called for help.

“They just didn’t know what to do,” Cummins said. “Even though Sean had just died and they had just heard about this Good Samaritan Law, nobody really believed in it. Nobody really felt comfortable with it. They were still thinking if we call on Boone, he’s going to get in trouble or we’re going to get in trouble for knowing about it.”

Both mothers believe someone calling for help could have saved their sons’ lives. In honor of their sons, both families have raised awareness about the Good Samaritan Law. In sharing what happened to their sons, they have attached faces and names to the law in a way they hope helps kids remember.

Under North Carolina’s Good Samaritan Law, enacted in 2013, a person can seek medical assistance by contacting 911, a police officer, or EMS for themselves or someone else experiencing a drug overdose without fear of prosecution for the following:

• Possession of small amounts of drugs

• Possession of drug paraphernalia

• Underage possession or consumption of alcohol

• Violating conditions of probation, parole or post-release

Currently, the law requires the caller to provide his or her name to law enforcement or EMS to qualify for legal protection. While it may feel uncomfortable to share your name, you will not get in trouble and it is far more important to help the person in need.

“Deputies and first responders in Chatham County are here to save lives, not pass judgment,” Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson said. “Our deputies are trained and equipped to use Narcan to help reverse symptoms of an overdose, but we can only provide timely assistance if we are called to help.”

Their sons were not saved by the Good Samaritan Law, but Sean and Boone’s moms say it has been meaningful to hear of several cases where someone made the call and saved a life — many the result of hearing about their sons.

In 2020, first responders were dispatched to 43 overdoses in Chatham County. Roberson said they were able revive all but four individuals, thanks to the rapid responses of friends or family who called for help.

“If you are ever in the position to call 911 on behalf of someone experiencing an overdose, do not hesitate. Remember, the law is on your side and you could be the hero who saves someone’s life,” Roberson said.

O’Donnell said she believes education about the Good Samaritan Law should begin in middle school so teens are informed prior to the peak time of experimentation in high school and college. After first learning of the law, she said there needs to be continued, periodic education in order for teens to absorb the information. In Chatham County, the Good Samaritan Law has been added to the driver’s education curriculum. Roberson said raising public awareness about the law is part of the county’s response to the opioid epidemic.

When employed, the Good Samaritan Law is powerful and can save lives. But people first have to know about it. Familiarize yourself with the law and tell others about it.

If there is an overdose situation, make the 911 call. As both mothers say, “It’s just a no-brainer, be kind, leave no one behind.”

Rachel Crumpler is a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill studying journalism and working with Safe Kids Orange County and Safe Kids Chatham County.

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