Senate Bill 2780, the Mississippi Medical Emergency Good Samaritan Act, is a bill to provide immunity from arrest or prosecution for certain drug violations by a person seeking treatment for a drug overdose. We support SB2780 because we want to encourage people to seek medical care on behalf of themselves and others, in any emergency situation. SB2780 passed the Senate and now moves to the House.
Unintentional drug overdose is now considered to be a leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Overdose bystanders may not call for medical assistance for fear of being arrested for drug-related crimes. Good Samaritan Policies are life-saving measures that enable people to make responsible decisions by shielding them from punishment when they call for medical help during an emergency relating to alcohol or other drugs.
Since the threat of punitive policies can often cause hesitation during confusing and stressful party situations, the existence of a Good Samaritan Policy is essential to ensuring that people are able to stay alive and receive help when they are in trouble. Furthermore, this bill, if passed, would be a step back from the state’s enforcement mentality toward drug use.
If our objective is to ensure that fewer people are harmed by drug use, we should emphasize and fund access to treatment and care, not focus on criminalizing those who need the help. Drug policy in this country is tragically and ineffectively tied to criminal justice tools and frameworks. Policymakers need to make the switch from approaching drug use as a criminal justice issue to an issue that would be much better solved with health care. It is unfair, unjust, unworkable and downright dangerous to try to police a health problem.
Saving a life is far more important than making an arrest.
Mississippi cannot incarcerate its way out of the drug abuse problem. It is past time to address substance abuse as a public health matter, not a law enforcement matter. This bill is also a small step in that direction.