Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed legislation on Wednesday offering protection to anyone seeking medical help in the incident of a drug or alcohol overdose. The law extends both to people seeking assistance for themselves and for others, and seeks to prevent overdose deaths by empowering witnesses to report such episodes quickly without fear of legal repercussions for certain crimes.
"It is the intent of the General Assembly to encourage a witness or victim of a drug overdose to seek medical assistance in order to save the life of an overdose victim by establishing a state policy of protecting the witness or victim from prosecution and conviction for certain crimes," the text of the bill read.
Drug policy reformers quickly hailed the bill as a common-sense solution to reduce drug-related deaths.
“Criminalization should not be a barrier to calling 911,” said Lindsay LaSalle, attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement. “The Vermont legislature has aptly recognized that saving a life is of paramount importance to the prosecution of any nonviolent drug crime.”
With Shumlin's signature, Vermont becomes the 13th state to enact a "Good Samaritan" law. New Jersey became the 12th state last month, when Gov. Chris Christie (R) signed similar legislation after having opposed the measure for months.
On Wednesday, Shumlin also signed a separate bill into law increasing access to naloxone, a medication used to reverse opiate overdose.
Drug overdoses have become increasingly frequent with the rise of prescription drug abuse in recent years, emerging as a leading cause of injury-related deaths. In 2010, overdoses claimed 38,329 lives nationwide. Excessive alcohol use has been a longer standing problem, typically leading to around 80,000 deaths every year.