New Jersey Passes Drug Overdose Prevention Bill

The new legislation mirrors laws in 11 other states in protecting witnesses and victims of drug overdose from prosecution.
by | April 30, 2013

By Joelle Farrell

Gov. Christie and Democratic lawmakers found common ground Monday on a bill designed to help prevent drug-overdose deaths.

Christie, a former federal prosecutor, last fall conditionally vetoed a bill that would have protected illegal drug users from prosecution if they called 911 to report an overdose. In his veto message, the Republican governor said the so-called Good Samaritan bill did not take into account public safety or deterrence measures. He suggested that the Legislature instead have a committee study drug overdose deaths and reporting.

But on Monday, Christie revived the thrust of the Good Samaritan bill while taking action on a separate overdose-prevention measure. Christie suggested revisions to protect "witnesses and victims" of drug overdose from "arrest, charge, prosecution, conviction or revocation of parole or probation" for drug possession. But the law would not protect people engaging in drug trafficking or other serious crimes.

Legislators quickly approved Christie's revisions in voting sessions Monday. The Senate voted, 24-1, in favor of Christie's ideas, and the Assembly voted, 68-2, in favor, with six abstentions. The bill now heads to Christie's desk.

"I am pleased that the governor has come around to the fact that we don't need to study legislation that is effectively preventing overdose deaths in 11 other states, but rather we need action to prevent more New Jerseyans from dying," said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen). "This measure aligns our laws with our values that saving someone's life is more important that prosecuting either the victim or the person who does the right thing by calling for help."

Christie spokesman Colin Reed said the governor "is grateful that his concerns on this important issue were heard and incorporated in a bipartisan way."

"We look forward to reviewing the reworked bill in its final form," he said.

The new bill aims to combat overdoses by encouraging witnesses to call for help and expanding access to naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose on opiates such as heroin.

If Christie signs the bill, New Jersey would become the 12th state to offer limited immunity to those who report an overdose. Pennsylvania does not have a similar law.

(c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer


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