Good Samaritan law arrives to save lives

Seeking help for overdose no longer leads to jail

Central Alberta’s harm reduction agency says Canada’s new law that prevents people from being charged for drug possession when they call 911 for themselves or others will help save lives.

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act will also exempt people from charges for violating court or parole conditions when they seek emergency medical or law enforcement assistance.

Sarah Fleck, interim operational manager at Turning Point, said of the drug overdose reversals reported to the agency, less than 25 per cent of people are calling 911.

“Most of it is fear of police attending the 911 call and them being charged or having conditions that mean they may be apprehended by police at that time,” Fleck said.

Since July 2015, Turning Point has been distributing kits with naloxone, a drug that can temporarily reverse opioid overdose to give people time to seek medical treatment.

Often clients will tell the agency about successful overdose reversals.

The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which amends the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, was introduced as a private member’s bill last year by Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam MP Ron McKinnon, a Liberal backbencher.

Fleck said it’s a law that people have been waiting for and this week Turning Point has been spreading the word to clients.

“We have had really positive response from clients that we have told. We know that it’s a really simple law that will positively impact a lot of people.”

She has not heard whether any clients have since made 911 calls.

Overdoses have been on the rise since the fentanyl crisis began.

In Alberta Health Services Central Zone, fatal fentanyl overdoses increased to 16 in the fourth quarter of 2016 from five in the third quarter.

The zone had 37 fentanyl deaths in 2016, 34 in 2015 and 13 in 2014.

Across Alberta there were 343 deaths in 2016, 257 in 2015, and 117 in 2014.

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