BAR HARBOR — Maine’s recovery communities, activists and some legislators are proposing an expansion of Maine’s Good Samaritan law, with a new bill, LD 1862, that would shield nearly everyone at the scene of an overdose from arrest or prosecution.
The current Good Samaritan bill only shields the person who overdosed and the 911 caller.
Nearly 70 people, including leaders of recovery organizations, legislators and people in recovery themselves, gathered online via the videoconferencing platform Zoom Jan. 18 to discuss An Act to Strengthen Maine’s Good Samaritan Laws Concerning Drug-Related Medical Assistance and why they say it is desperately needed.
Time is being spent cleaning up the scene of an overdose – including removing people from the property who might be on probation or bail and face potential prosecution, bill supporters said.
“Of the 635 lives lost last year, one was my family member,” said state Rep. Lydia V. Crafts (D-Newcastle). “He died of an overdose and this exact situation played out.”
The people who were with Crafts’ late relative spent time clearing off the property and getting people who were on probation off the property, Crafts said. “I wish and hope that no other family has to experience this. It’s a horrible tragic loss. We can’t keep doing things the same way and expecting different results.”
The proposed bill states that it would “extend the state’s Good Samaritan laws by exempting from arrest or prosecution for a nonviolent offense or a violation of probation or conditions of release a person at the location of a drug-related overdose for which medical assistance was sought or naloxone was administered.”
Naloxone, which has a commercial name of Narcan, is an opiate antidote.
Sherri Talbot, who trains people in the use of Narcan, said the most important part of the training is to call 911.
“I always get met with ‘But I’m on probation. I’m on bail. I’m not supposed to be here,’” Talbot said.
What people may not realize is that Narcan is not a magic bullet, so to speak.
Sometimes it can take multiple doses of Narcan to revive someone who has overdosed.
“Narcan does not always last as long as the opiates themselves,” Talbot said.
Talbot said she’s heard of numerous cases where it’s obvious someone else was present during the overdose, administered Narcan then left the person who overdosed alone.
“The opiates reassert themselves and the person dies,” Talbot said. “It’s absolutely vital that 911 be called. You don’t know what other substances might be involved. The number of cases where people don’t call 911 is absolutely overwhelming in the area I cover.”
Meagan Sway, policy director for ACLU Maine, said drug use is a public health issue.
“When people are afraid to call 911, laws are standing in the way of people getting the help they need,” Sway said. “In 2019, the ACLU supported the passage of the Good Samaritan Law. We’re still hearing people are afraid to report overdoses. Our police should not be showing up before EMTs.”
Kayty Robbins, director of Rise and Grind Recovery, said it became “significantly harder for me to continue my life,” including relationships with her children and employers, when police were involved.
Randy Beard, founder of Recover Together, said he has been doing outreach for the “unhoused community” for many years.
“The first question is what did you sell them?” Beard said. “When I tried to save the person’s life.”
“A person in a medical emergency should not be allowed to die because the people around him are governed by fear,” said state Rep. Raegan LaRochelle (D-Augusta).
Matt Gunn of Freeport spoke in favor of the legislation.
“Our prisons are full of working-class people on low-level drug charges,” Gunn said. “We can no longer target working-class Mainers for a problem they didn’t start while drug companies profit.”
Most law enforcement chiefs, when asked about how the proposed expansion would affect public safety or law enforcement if passed, either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
However, Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane said, “I’m neither for nor against it right now. If someone has overdosed and is dying, we need to help them as soon as we can.”
No date has yet been scheduled for public hearing on the proposed legislation.