Why Saving Lives is Harder in Texas
Damn you Greg Abbott.
I am reasonable enough to understand that we all have differing political views and priorities. However, as a reasonable person, I am compelled to question both the compassion and the intellect of a lawmaker who feels that the opportunity to punish people involved with drugs should take precedence over saving the lives of people who use drugs.
Currently, 47 states have put forth Good Samaritan Laws. The holdouts include Kansas, Wyoming, and of course Texas.
In 2020, Texas saw an increase in overdose deaths of 31.9%. Just two years earlier, Abbott blocked two bills, Senate Bill 305 and House Bill 2432, despite significant support from the House Select Committee on Opioids and Substance Abuse. Our Governor has convened three special sessions of late, none of which address the Good Samaritan Law.
So, what exactly is the Good Samaritan Law?
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Good Samaritan Laws “…provide protection from prosecution for low-level drug offenses, like sale or use of a controlled substance or paraphernalia, for the person seeking medical assistance as well as the person who overdosed.”
Basically, this law provides protection for people involved in trying to save a life during an overdose, as well as protection for the person who has overdosed.
Research has shown that one of the most common reasons for not seeking medical attention during an overdose is fear of 911 involvement.
We have all seen the movies—someone overdoses during a party and they throw the person in a car and dump them in front of a hospital. They do this because they are afraid of getting in trouble, thereby costing the person who overdosed precious lifesaving time.
What are the benefits of the Good Samaritan Law?
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), they reviewed 17 studies related to effectiveness of Good Samaritan Laws. The GAO found that, “despite some limitations, the findings collectively suggest a pattern of lower rates of opioid-related overdose deaths among states that have enacted Good Samaritan laws, both compared to death rates prior to a law's enactment and death rates in states without such laws”.
Additionally, college campuses with Good Samaritan policies have been proven to encourage students to call for medical help during an overdose involving drugs or alcohol.
Lives before punishment
The threat of jail, especially for those on probation or parole is a real concern. On any given day in the U.S., approximately 450,000 people are incarcerated due to non-violent drug offenses. As anyone who knows anything about the system knows, once you are in it, getting out and staying out can feel next to impossible. Especially if you are a person of color and/or come from a lower socioeconomic status. The criminalization of substance use disorders has of course compounded the issue for decades now.
A study from Washington State and their Good Samaritan Law found that 88% of people who use opioids would not only be more likely, but also feel less afraid to call 911 after they were educated about the [Good Samaritan] law.
In a moving article written for Trib Talk in 2018, Dr. Carlos Tirado, an Austin-based psychiatrist wrote the following in his plea for Texas to rethink the Good Samaritan Law, "There is simply no greater moral act than to save a life. While this session’s opportunity has passed, lawmakers should continue pushing Good Samaritan legislation, and most importantly, the governor should rethink his opposition. His pen can ensure that not one more Texan dies without hope…”
Help Save a Life
Knowing what to do and how to do it during an overdose is key. Below are some resources to help you feel better prepared.
This is relevant now more than ever. In September 2021, the DEA released its first public safety warning in six years, regarding Fentanyl, stating, "The United States is facing an unprecedented crisis of overdose deaths fueled by illegally manufactured fentanyl and methamphetamine," DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said. "Counterfeit pills that contain these dangerous and extremely addictive drugs are more lethal and more accessible than ever before."
If you need support, Substance Use Therapy is here. Whatever you are facing, you don’t have to face it alone.
Chappell, B. (2021, July 14). Drug Overdoses Killed A Record Number Of Americans In 2020, Jumping By Nearly 30%. https://www.npr.org/2021/07/14/1016029270/drug-overdoses-killed-a-record-number-of-americans-in-2020-jumping-by-nearly-30.
About the Author:
Kimberly May, LPC-S, LMFT is a therapist at Substance Use Therapy in Austin, TX. Kimberly works with individuals, couples and families whose lives have been affected by substance use. By utilizing a harm reduction framework, Kimberly works effectively with people in any stage of use. In addition to substance use, she works with other issues such as anger, gambling, anxiety and grief. Contact today to schedule a no-charge, 30 minute, in-person consultation. *Note: telephone and telehealth sessions are currently available.