The morning after Salvatore Marchese left his mother's house for a session of outpatient treatment for his heroin addiction, he was found slumped behind the wheel of her car, dead of an overdose. He apparently hadn't been alone: His wallet was missing and the car's passenger seat was left in a reclined position. But whoever was with him when he was using drugs was long gone by the time the police arrived.
When Patty DiRenzo learned what happened to her son, she wondered: "How could somebody leave somebody to die?"
One reason is, someone calling for help could have been arrested under most state's laws. But:
Eight states have passed laws since 2007 that give people limited immunity on drug possession charges if they seek medical help for an overdose. A similar proposal is being considered in the District of Columbia but faces uncertain prospects because of opposition from police and prosecutors.
"It's really common sense — just to make it easier for people to call 911 by addressing what people have said is sort of their single-greatest fear in delaying or not calling 911 at all," said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction coordinator of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit that works to change current drug policies.
The measures have encountered resistance from some police officials and law-and-order legislators, who say the proposals are tantamount to get-out-of-jail-free cards, condone drug use, and could prevent police from investigating illicit drug dealing or juvenile drug use….
Initial findings from University of Washington researchers found that 88 percent of opiate users surveyed in the state, which passed an immunity law in 2010, would now be more likely to call 911 in an overdose…
Rhode Island, Illinois, Florida, Colorado and New York have passed laws in the past two years, joining Connecticut, Washington and New Mexico. The bills differ in some respects, but generally shield from prosecution a person who is in possession of a small quantity of drugs and who seeks medical aid after an overdose.
The U.S. Attorney's office is frightened of these laws, natch, and for reasons as absurd and indefensible as laws against drug use itself:
Testifying at a D.C. Council hearing, Patricia Riley, a lawyer with the U.S. Attorney's office, said there was nothing in the bill to prevent someone facing arrest from swallowing a pocketful of drugs and reporting an overdose — and in turn avoiding prosecution. She said she envisioned cases in which a person who surreptitiously administered drugs to a stranger or acquaintance, causing an overdose, might go free or that someone overdosing on PCP might not be held accountable for "atrocious crimes" committed before the person sought medical attention.