RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – There’s a push for more protections for people who call 911 when someone overdoses.
Families, advocates, and lawmakers gathered Wednesday to support a new bill they say will strengthen North Carolina’s Good Samaritan Law.
Under the proposed bill in the Senate, everyone at the scene of an overdose would be protected from arrest and prosecution. Advocates said the current law is not enough because it only protects the caller and person who overdoses from prosecution.
Mary O’Donnell supports the law. Her son Sean died after she said his friends bet him to drink too much alcohol. She said his friends were scared to call 9-1-1 because they feared they’d get in trouble. The 19-year-old ended up drowning.
“It’s all about saving a life, nobody should hesitate a second, just pick up the phone and make the call,” O’Donnell said.
Julie Cummins’ son, Boone Cummins, was best friends with Sean. She said her son struggled after losing Sean. Boone died from an overdose after taking Xanax. It was the night before he was supposed to go to rehab.
Cummins said her son reached out to friends, but they did not want to get in trouble and they did not want Boone to get in trouble either.
“We are not the same people. We are not the same family,” Cummins said. “Every day we wake up and it is the main thing that you think about when you wake up.”
The proposed bill would provide immunity from being charged with Death by Distribution. At the same time, there are bills in the legislature to increase the punishment for death by distribution. The Death by Distribution Act penalizes someone if the drugs they supply result in death.
During the press conference Wednesday, supporters were asked if these laws conflict.
Lee Storrow with Community Education Group said fear of that charge prevents people from calling for help.
“In the event of an overdose, the policy should be saving a life is our priority,” Storrow said.
The proposed law also broadens the protections for substances and amounts.
CBS 17 asked what in the current law do supporters of the new law believe would stop somebody from calling 911.
“As an example of modernization, when this bill was originally put into place, fentanyl was not one of the covered drugs. It wasn’t as predominant as it is now,” said bill sponsor Sen. Bobby Hanig (R-District 3).
Hanig, a primary sponsor of the bill, said he’s been in contact with law enforcement groups and is aware there is work to do on the bill.
Its supporters know that too.
“There’s other legislation happening and we don’t anticipate this bill that was introduced will be what ultimately passes we wanted to start the conversation in North Carolina with the strongest and most expansive law possible,” Storrow said.
The proposal would also protect students calling campus security in substance-related emergencies.
“The grief doesn’t end, but you learn how to focus on things that will prevent other people from going through this tragedy,” O’Donnell said.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, a record 4,041 people died from an overdose in the state in 2021. That is a 22% increase from 2020.
The bill was filed last week and is currently in committee.