As of April 24, 2014, the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law provides immunities from arrests, charges and prosecution for people calling 911 and seeking medical attention after drug overdoses.
The law not only assures amnesty related from drug charges but also from alcohol use and possession charges when someone calls 911 for help. It has also expanded access to the opioid antidote known as Naloxone, or Narcan, which reverses the effects of drug overdoses.
“The point to me of the law is that you keep people alive long enough to get [them] into long-term recovery, so that they can have a life,” said Robin Elliott, member of the Georgia Overdose Prevention group which lobbied to pass the law.
Elliott lost her son, Zack, to a heroin overdose in May 2011.
In an April 2014 article, The Red & Black addressed the elements of the law more specifically.
In effect for six months, the law has slowly started to gain publicity and will hopefully encourage students to call for help in overdose situations, said Laurie Fugitt, a Georgia Overdose Prevention Group member.
“It just [takes] getting the word out. You know if one kid reads this, goes out to a party, sees someone in trouble and then takes the time to call 911 then how awesome would that be,” said Fugitt, a University of Georgia graduate.
At UGA, Chief of Police Jimmy Williamson said that one case has occurred in which a student may have been swayed to call the police because of the law. However, overall the situation has not changed in regards to students being more willing to call.
“We had one case pop-up so far. I don’t know if this [law] would have caused the guy to call or not, we will assume it’s a success, but he said ‘listen, I’ve taken some stuff and I think I need some help,’” said Williamson. “We got an ambulance over there and police over there, got him where he needed to go, and he wasn’t charged but I can’t tell you that now a bunch of people are calling us.”
Although it is unclear whether 911 calls have increased because of the law, UGA police have been making significant changes in regards to Naloxone access.
The 911 Medial Amnesty Law allows for anyone to get a prescription from a doctor for any person at risk of an overdose. The law also allows police to carry the antidote, as they are typically the first responders.
“For 40 years, the drug has been used in emergency departments. Where it is really needed is out in the field. When somebody overdoses, every minute that passes is vitally important,” said Fugitt. “It is a lot more valuable if the friends out in the field or the person who overdoses have [Naloxone] or if the officers who show up have it or the ambulance crew.”
After training and paperwork, UGA police officers will begin to carry Naloxone so that they are able to reverse drug overdoses on scene and save more students who have overdosed.
“Since there is no real risk to administer it incorrectly, then we are willing to take on that role. But, we are just not there completely. It’s about 50 percent done,” said Williamson.
Students will also be able to carry Naloxone themselves for their own need or the need of friends if an overdose situation occurs.
“We really hope that at some point pharmacies in Athens will be carrying it,” said Fugitt. “I’m hoping that before too long somebody can just go to the University Health Center and get a prescription for it and go get it filled.”
Because of the law, overdose prevention organization such as the Georgia Overdose Prevention group and Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition will be able to supply Naloxone rescue kits as well.
The law provides amnesty in overdose situation and the increased access to Naloxone so that hopefully student lives will be saved, Fugitt said.
“People need to know it’s okay. Don’t run, call 911 and save your friend’s life,” said Elliott. “It’s worth it.”