David Humes lost his son Greg to a drug overdose in May 2012. While the loss of a child is devastating to any parent, Greg's death was especially hard because it could have been prevented. The night of his death, the 24-year-old had accidentally overdosed while using drugs with some friends. Instead of calling for help, the so-called friends drove him to the hospital and abandoned him in a parking lot. They didn't honk the horn or alert the hospital of his presence, and by the time Greg was discovered, it was too late.
"When I got the call the next morning, I felt a horror beyond belief," recalls David. "It was Saturday. The following Monday was my birthday and Greg and I had planned to celebrate at a baseball game. Instead, I spent my birthday at a funeral home."
The investigating detective who arrived at his home to explain the details of Greg's death mentioned that some states have adopted 911 Good Samaritan laws to save lives from drug overdose. As in Greg's situation, most people overdose in the presence of friends or family members who could call for help, and yet fear of police involvement deters the majority from doing so. 911 Good Samaritan laws grant limited immunity from some drug or paraphernalia charges to those who experience an overdose and to witnesses who seek help. A 911 Good Samaritan law could have saved Greg, but at the time, neither his home state of Delaware and nor Pennsylvania where he died had such legislation. Thanks to the courageous efforts of parents like David who have lost a child to overdose, that is changing.
Today Delaware becomes the 14th state to pass a 911 Good Samaritan law, following 13 states and the District of Columbia who have voted to place the importance of saving lives above arrest for petty crimes and to allow people struggling with addiction a second chance to get better. It's been a long, but rewarding road for David, his wife Gail, and the other parents who pushed for this legislation following the deaths of their children.
"I first met with my state Senator at a coffee chat with constituents and I told him about Greg and the 911 Good Samaritan laws," said David. "At first my Senator said he was worried about the bill letting drug dealers get away, but he said he would look into it. When I met with him later he told me he would support the bill and that there was another Senator working with grieving parents to draft a law."
Republican and Democratic Senators introduced a bipartisan bill, SB116 "The Kristen L Jackson & John M Perkins, Jr. Law," named after two of the children who died, into the legislature in 2013. Four sets of parents, David and Gail Humes, Liz and Marty Perkins, Bill and Kathy Shields and Don and Jean Keister, testified at committee meetings, as well as on the Senate floor prior to the vote. They also launched a grassroots awareness campaign throughout the state with the help of the school nurses association.
"One of the mothers, Kathy Shields, hadn't wanted to testify because it was too difficult to speak of her daughter's death," said David. "But after we all testified on the Senate floor except her, she suddenly spoke up and gave a moving speech about the necklace she wore with her daughter's thumbprint. The bill passed the Senate unanimously. It was a huge moment for us."
SB116 had broad support in the Senate, but it looked like it would run out of time in the House before the legislature adjourned on June 30th. But after the parents testified at a House committee meeting, the House Chairman altered the rules to allow a full floor vote the same day (June 26th), and once again, the bill passed unanimously. Governor Markell signs it into law today at his office in Wilmington in the presence of the parents and bill sponsors.
"The passage of SB116 is a very personal accomplishment for my family because it means that [my son's] death, as tragic as it was and continues to be, will save other families from the perpetual grief of losing a child," says Liz Perkins. The law is named for her son, John, who died in 2011. "Our hope is that as more parents in our situation speak out, addiction will be seen and treated as the disease that it is. That gives us the hope to expand treatment to offer individuals the path back to a normal life. All my son and many others wanted was to get their lives back."
"After my son's death I was in mourning, but I wanted to do something to prevent other parents from traveling the same path," says David. "911 Good Samaritan laws could have saved my son's life. Now they can save someone else's."