Misinformation, politics combined to kill a good idea

Drug overdose deaths had been growing in Maine for several years, but what really grabbed public attention was a single statistic that emerged in 2010.

That year, more people in Maine died from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle accidents.

In response, the Legislature called together experts from around the state who met for four months before issuing a series of recommendations.

One was to create a "Good Samaritan" defense for people who witness an overdose and quickly call for medical help.

Sometimes, in such a situation, fellow drug users run, leaving the desperately sick person to die. Sometimes friends and family spend time clearing the scene of evidence rather than calling for help.

In either case, precious minutes are lost getting the victim medical attention that could quickly and effectively reverse the life-threatening condition.

The group of lawyers, doctors and drug abuse experts who studied the issue advised that Maine adopt an amendment to law that has worked effectively in other states.

It's called a "Good Samaritan" defense because it helps prevent people from being punished for acting compassionately and doing the right thing.

It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card, but rather an affirmative defense for anyone at the scene arrested for drug use or possession.

An affirmative defense means the defendant in a criminal case has the opportunity to prove to the satisfaction of a judge or jury that there were mitigating circumstances that should be considered in determining guilt or innocence.

An example of an affirmative defense is self-defense. Yes, I hit somebody, but I did so in self-defense.

The law would not protect people from prosecution for other offenses, like drug trafficking, or on unrelated charges, or for arrest on an outstanding warrant.

"A law of this type would save lives and save costs associated with untreated or inappropriately treated drug overdoses," according to the study group's report.

A bill was submitted by Ann Dorney, D-Norridgewock, a physician; three other physicians in the Legislature co-sponsored the measure.

Hearings were held by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and testimony was submitted by six people. Five spoke in favor, including Gordon Smith from the Maine Medical Association.

No one from law enforcement spoke against.  

The measure zoomed through the Legislature, passing as a formality because there was no opposition voiced.

So, from start to finish: The "Good Samaritan" overdose bill was suggested by a panel of experts. Supported by testimony and medical literature. Proven in nine states and the District of Columbia. Then it was approved without exception by every member of the Maine House and Senate.

Perhaps Gov. Paul LePage was unaware of all this when the bill crossed his desk, but he didn't like what he saw. Out came the veto pen, and down went the law intended to save lives.

The governor said in his veto message that LD 1044 would "create an unnecessary barrier for drug enforcement when drug use remains a significant scourge on our state."

The governor didn't provide any evidence of this or examples. John Morris, the governor-appointed commissioner of Public Safety, recently told the Sun Journal he supported the veto, but refused to say another word about it.

We're not sure what, if any, research Morris did on the subject, but we talked to Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chief of Police Foundation.

His state has had a similar law for several years, a law his group "strongly supported," and to his knowledge the law has caused no problems for the members of his association.

Sampson said his group's officers use their discretion and would rarely charge a person for possession if they were seeking to save another person's life.

Even if they did file a charge, he believes prosecutors would show similar discretion.

It is likely that police officers and prosecutors everywhere would much rather save a life than make a bust for a small quantity of drugs.

Washington State adopted a similar law in 2010. Afterward, researchers found that 88 percent of opiate users said they would be more likely to call for help if they felt they would not be prosecuted for possession.

Which is the whole point of passing such a law and spreading the word in Maine. Overdose deaths are, after all, one of the problems we are trying to solve.

The bill went back to the Legislature, where Democrats sought to override the veto.

This time, 14 Republicans in the Senate switched sides, apparently believing it was more important to agree with the governor than to save the lives of a few drug addicts. Only one Republican stuck with his original vote.

In the House, 47 Republicans shuddered at the thought of defying the governor, switched sides and voted against a bill recommended by medical and drug-abuse experts.

The "Good Samaritan" bill made sense, likely would have saved lives and may eventually pass one day.

Unfortunately, it won't be this year. This time, misinformation and partisanship prevailed over compassion and good government.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

Gerald Weinand's picture

But I thought the GOP is the

But I thought the GOP is the party of Life.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Only small minded people, would defy logic

Washington State adopted a similar law in 2010. Afterward, researchers found that 88 percent of opiate users said they would be more likely to call for help if they felt they would not be prosecuted for possession.

So it goes without saying Repubs/GOPers want to see humans die and not try and save communities or the lives of the addicts that need help.

You help an addict, you save the person, families, community and the taxpayers from theft and destruction, but the Repubs are too stupid to figure that one out.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Jer ? " So it goes without

Jer ? " So it goes without saying Repubs/GOPers want to see humans die and not try and save communities or the lives of the addicts that need help. " The death party . Live free . Die . Wait until they reach retirement age where and when they have no health insurance and really - D O - need Medicare ®  & Medicaid ® whilst passing their kidney stones
It's a lot like pissing glass , gents ?
Who will be singing the blues then , Paul LePage ?
http://www.pnhp.org/news/2013/june/when-insurance-is-too-expensive-no-ma...
Drink ' choke ' cranberry juice •
Big moon to-night http://mkwc.ifa.hawaii.edu/current/cams/index.cgi?mode=multi
hth /s , Dr. Dosh , shalom , salem , peace , o'ja'la & en'sha'allah <3

MARK GRAVE's picture

In reality, a good idea is

In reality, a good idea is like art; it is only good in the eye of the beholder.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

Part of the problem, as I see

Part of the problem, as I see it, is fear. There are many republicans who seem to be in fear of the governor and with his track record they are probably wise to be afraid of him, especially ones who had close races during the last election. However, by following the governor they have now put even more republican seats at risk. Democracy works best when all parties have representation and no one side has an automatic veto overturning power. This leads to bipartisanship and compromise and works best for the state. That being said, the governor needs to actually read the bills with an open mind before making a decision. Since he has already shown he will veto everything that isn't his idea then he needs to be overridden by the House and Senate. The republicans that change their votes need to stand strong....if the bill was okay during the first vote then there is no reason to change their votes unless something else is added to the bill. These people need to grow a backbone and stick to their guns and get on with the business of the State of Maine.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Such a waste

It has been heartbreaking this year to watch how hard the legislature worked to come up with bipartisan legislation only to see everything thrown out because of one guy and his lackeys who take the attitude all or nothing. It is such a waste of tax payer dollars and doesn't reflect the will of the voters. I guess that is what you get when you hire PETA to organize your hunting party. Maine has had incredibly talented legislators going back to Margaret Chase Smith to George Mitchell etc. etc. To see such mediocrity in our politics nowadays is beyond disappointing.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Misinformation, politics combined to kill a good idea

Mainers , Saturday 18:18
Good editorial . One more death is one too many . How much is human life worth to any single one of us ?
At the state and local levels politics is so random . .er. .allow me to rephrase that , please . At the federal , state and local levels politics is so random at times here these very U S of A . We enjoy a government of the people , by the people , and for the people yet one must always keep in mind that the average IQ of the people is 1 0 0 , by definition . i am not claiming to be the brightest light on the string . . ...okay ?
Now on to Sanford , Flori-duh and their bad samaritan laws
Guns
/s, Dr. Dosh

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