There were 38,329 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2010, says the Centers for Disease Control, the #1 accidental killer of people 25 to 64, surpassing traffic deaths. Now states are taking action to prevent some of those deaths, many of which are attributable to heroin and the illegal use of prescription pain medications, says Stateline. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed “Good Samaritan” laws that grant limited immunity to drug users who seek help for someone who has overdosed, says the Trust for America’s Health, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group in Washington, D.C. The same number have expanded access to the medication naloxone (also known by its brand name Narcan), which can quickly reverse the effects of opioid overdoses and restore breathing to a stricken person.
Similar measures are under consideration in at least six other states–Maine, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In some states, such as Oklahoma and North Carolina, the measures are passing with the support of conservative Republican lawmakers allied with police and the families of overdose victims. They also carry the endorsement of the American Medical Association, the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the American Public Health Association. Not everyone is on board. Maine Gov. Paul LePage is opposing a naloxone access bill that is under consideration in his state's legislature, arguing that the availability of an antidote would only encourage more drug use. Last year, LePage vetoed a Good Samaritan bill. The laws’ basic intent is that anyone who calls for help in the case of an overdose can't be prosecuted for possession of small amounts of drugs or drug paraphernalia.