Arizona Passes Law Allowing First Responders to Administer Lifesaving Overdose Drug

Overview of new law: Qualified first responders and training; Liability & Immunities; Good Samaritan Laws; Criminal Penalties & Defense

Overview of AZ HB 2489: Combatting Heroin Overdoses
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A bill we have been following closely, AZ HB 2489 was passed on April 10, 2015. The expected  effective date is July 3, 2015. Arizona now joins 26 other US states that have passed similar legislation.

First responder’s administration of opiate reversal injections, have been credited with saving over 10,000 lives in the USA where overdoses were reversed.

According to the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC), accidental overdose is now the number one cause of death in the USA, exceeding even automobile accidents for people among the age of 25 and 64.

Earlier this year, the CDC reported that heroin overdose deaths nearly quadrupled between 2000 and 2013.  An increasing number of Arizona residents have been overdosing on heroin and opiate-based painkillers like Codeine.  Arizona is now the sixth-highest state for heroin overdose fatalities.

First Responders Granted Authority to Administer Narcan

Currently, emergency medical technicians (EMT) are classified in four categories, each of which can only administer certain medications within its scope of practice. At present, only those certified above the initial EMT certification are authorized to administer naloxone hydrochloride to someone believed to be overdosing.

The new law allows for more trained emergency medical technicians , police, peace officers, and other first responders to administer opiate antagonists properly trained to administer a life-saving injection of an opiate antagonist to a victim in an attempt to reverse the overdose. Such injections have proven highly effective in reversing opiate overdoses such as heroin.

The opiate antagonist often used in heroin overdoses is Narcan (Brand name) or Naloxone (generic name).  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved use of “Evizo” an injector that is utilized by first responders to administer the drug to administer the drug.

Narcan has been successful in many cases in reviving a person, who otherwise would not have survived without the injection.  However, immediate administration of the drug is critical to its effectiveness.  Often times, police are first responders are to the scene of an overdose, and it was too late for the drug to be administered before the victim to get emergency medical treatment.

In the case of deadly overdoses, minutes and seconds can mean the difference between, life and death.  Thus, expanding the authority and training more first responders such as police and other categories of emergency medical technicians was crucial.

Opponents of the First Responder Bill AZ 2489

Not everyone was enthusiastic about the new law. Opponents of the bill felt it would encourage drug abuse, increase medical costs; and increase costs for training and equipping first responders. Proponents of the bill argued that saving lives, far outweighed any proven or economic advantages of the new law.

Training First Responders in the Administration of Narcan  

The new law calls upon the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) to develop the training and certification standards for EMTs; to develop a training program for EMTs and peace officers in the detection of an opiate overdose; and when necessary to administer the opiate antagonists as a countermeasure.

One of the opiate antagonists that is administered to reverse the adverse effects of opiate overdose is naloxone hydrochloride, better known by its brand name Narcan. The opiate antagonist works by blocking heroin’s absorption into cells, putting the person who is overdosing into immediate withdrawal.

Immunities for Civil and Criminal Liability of First Responders

The new law provides exemptions from criminal, professional, and civil liability, for physicians and nurses who issue standing orders for naloxone hydrochloride or other opiate antagonists,  additional EMTs,  police or peace officers who are first responders to administer it the drug.

Trained and qualified first responders are immune from both professional liability and criminal prosecution for any decisions, acts, omissions, or injuries that result as long as they use reasonable care in good faith, except in cases of wanton or willful neglect.

Entities Not Granted Immunity

While the bill exempts EMTs, police officers, and doctors who try to help someone who is overdosing, some argue that the bill falls short of recognizing other potential first responders, and overdose response issues.  For Example:

  • The new law does not allow for training, or authority of family members, or recognize them as first responders to administer a life-saving dose of naloxone hydrochloride to a loved one whom they know abuses heroin, since family members are often the first responders.
  • Immediately after the life-saving dose is administered a person can go into withdrawal and require immediate medical care, with no provisions in place for this scenario.
  • The bill does not provide exemption from criminal liability for family members or witnesses who observe an overdose. Witnesses often fail to call the police or delay calling when they observe a heroin overdose because they fear they too will be arrested and prosecuted for drug possession or another drug crime.

However, a number of these issues are being addressed in other types of legislation mounting in states across the USA. They are being called #911 Good Samaritan Laws.

When faced with the decision of whether or not to call #911 to seek emergency medical treatment for an overdose, or as a witness to an overdose, you should make the call.  The new Arizona law allows police and other first responders to administer an emergency lifesaving drug.

An experienced drug crimes attorney can protect your rights, and provide a strong defense for the charges if you are arrested or prosecuted.  But the victim of a deadly overdose does not get a second chance when only minutes or seconds stand between life and death.

Good Samaritan Laws

Laws protecting witnesses, who seek help for someone who has overdosed, are often referred to as #911 Google Samaritan Laws.

Some states have enacted such #911 Good Samaritan law that immunizes those trying to help a person who is overdosing by calling 911. Unfortunately however, Arizona does not have these types of laws in place yet.

Currently 21 states have such Good Samaritan Laws in place.  These types of laws are understandably misunderstood.  Opponents of these laws argue that such laws protect people from being arrested or prosecuted for drug crimes such as sales, trafficking, distribution, or manufacturing of illegal drugs.  But that is a misconception.

The Google Samaritan laws and principles are in place to protect only the caller or person seeking medical attention, the victim who has overdosed on drugs or alcohol in the case of personal use and possession.

Criminal Defense for Heroin and Drug Crimes in Mesa AZ   

When faced with the decision of whether or not to call #911 to seek emergency medical treatment for an overdose, or as a witness to an overdose, you should make the call.  The new Arizona law that now allows police and other first responders to administer an emergency lifesaving drug.

An experienced drug crimes attorney can protect your rights, and provide a strong defense for the charges if you are arrested or prosecuted.  But the victim of a deadly overdose does not get a second chance when only minutes or seconds stand between life and death.

As an extremely dangerous and addictive drug, heroin is categorized as a Schedule I drug in Arizona, which means that if you are caught possessing it, you can be tried for Class 4 felony possession. The punishment if you are tried for a Class 4 felony is at least two years and six months in jail. A felony conviction can follow you around for life, affecting your ability to get into schools, obtain professional licenses, secure housing, or get a job.

However, the court has the discretion to turn the felony charge into a Class 1 misdemeanor if you haven’t previously been convicted of a felony. If you’re charged with misdemeanor possession of heroin, the fine will be the greater of $1,000 or three times the value of the heroin.  An experienced criminal defense attorney can raise the strongest possible defenses, both procedural and substantive, to prevent a felony conviction or obtain a reduction in the charges.

If you are charged or arrested for heroin possession, you should consult with an experienced Phoenix felony defense attorney to discuss your matter and options for defense as soon as reasonably possible.  James Novak is a highly skilled former prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney. Contact James Novak at 480-413-1499 for a confidential and free initial consultation, if you face criminal charges in Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, or other surrounding East Valley Cities.

Additional Resources: 

.         Bill HB2489: Arizona State Legislature
.         Arizona Department of Health Services
.         National Centers for Disease Control: Drug Overdose Facts
.         Arizona Drug Courts

Related Articles: 

.         Facing Down A Giant: The Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

Related Articles of Interest:
.         U.S. Supreme Court Tips Scale to 4th Amendment Rights at Police Stops
Proportions
.         Arizona Court of Appeals Marijuana Trafficking Case Study: Part II of II – Suspects 40 Minute Detention for K-9 Drug Unit Not Unreasonable
.         Arizona Court of Appeals: Officer had Reasonable Suspicion to Detain based on Totality of Circumstances: Part I of II: Case Study

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