Should It Be Legal to Go to the Hospital High?

On International Overdose Awareness Day, measures aimed at preventing drug overdose deaths are gaining traction.

On International Overdose Awareness Day, groups seek support for legislation that protects overdose victims, and those that help them, from prosecution. (Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images)

It’s a nightmare scenario that strikes too often in the United States: Someone gets high, realizes he may have overdosed, but then is too scared of getting in trouble to call for help.

Often, tragically, those people die: Last year, The Los Angeles Times reported that drug deaths in the U.S. outnumbered traffic fatalities.

And now today is International Overdose Awareness Day, an observance declared by the Overdose Prevention Alliance, a movement started in Australia that has since expanded. Today there will be dozens of events held in cities around the U.S. alone.

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Concrete action to help reduce overdose deaths in America is now in the works. For example, some states have recently considered granting immunity to drug users who seek medical help. And just this week California advanced a measure eliminating criminal prosecution for people who are high or possess drugs when calling for medical assistance for an overdose, the L.A. Times reports.

Other states, including Washington and New Mexico, have similar measures.

Efforts to reduce the fear of prosecution for people who have overdosed or are around someone who is in trouble have also been in the works for years. New Jersey currently has bills that could extend protection to people seeking help for someone having an overdose.

The California bill is called the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act, and it’s meant to prevent those terrible situations when people—often teens whose friends have taken too much of a drug—know that someone is having an overdose but are too scared of arrest to dial 911.

New York passed similar measures in July, according to Time.

Such legislation is advocated by groups like the OPA, the Drug Policy Alliance, and Drug Overdose and Prevention Education (DOPE).

Overdose prevention advocates often call for a wider distribution of a drug called naloxone, a non-addictive antidote to opioid drug overdose. It’s currently only available via prescription, but the drug is under review by the FDA for over-the-counter sale, and a number of distribution sites for it have popped up around the country.

Naloxone was first championed by the Chicago Recovery Alliance, which distributes overdose kits to drug users. But access to naloxone is very restricted; there is a shortage of the drug internationally and most people have no way to buy it. One way to act is to give to the Overdose Prevention Alliance’s Naxolene Fund or take part in one of today’s awareness events

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