Good Samaritans should receive legal protectionBy CHRISTI BERRONG,
It was Christmas time when I got the call. My son, who was addicted to drugs, had been missing for a few weeks. I slept with scrubs laid out and my phone in my hand. Then the ringing in the middle of the night. He was in the ER. “Is he alive?” was the only thing I could say. The nurse on the line responded, “For now.” When I got there, I was told it was a heroin overdose. A car had pulled into the hospital parking lot, his limp body was pushed out, and they drove off. The doctors and nurses worked on my son right there in the parking lot. They did everything that heroes do, and they saved his life. But the person driving that car also saved his life, and should be protected from prosecution.
Mississippi has a Good Samaritan law, and its intention is to make sure that people who call emergency services seeking to prevent an overdose death don’t get charged with a crime themselves. However, the law is limited and only applies in certain circumstances. For instance, if the individual overdosing has three grams of a controlled substance, they would be protected, but if they had four grams, they could be prosecuted. Expanding the provision to apply to all situations where an individual is overdosing and emergency services are called in good faith will help save lives. Senate Bill 2745 and House Bill 881 in the Mississippi Legislature both would expand this protection if passed.
It wasn’t until I saw my beautiful blue-eyed boy alive in that hospital bed that my head cleared enough to understand why people were asking about the car and who was driving. Some of them assumed I would want the driver to answer for his overdose, to be punished if they were using drugs too. I don’t. I see the person driving that car as a hero, just like I see the doctors and nurses who brought my boy back to me. That driver could have dropped him off anywhere. It would have been safer for them, to avoid being seen, to leave him somewhere deserted. I might never have known what happened to my son. His life could have ended that night as a nameless and faceless addict. But addicted people are our children, our siblings, our family. They are all loved by someone. And someone else’s child chose to take him to the doctors and nurses who could save him, even if it cost them their own freedom.
We intuitively understand that Good Samaritans at car accidents should be protected. They tried to help, they did the right things. This is common sense. And even if the accident ends tragically in death, would the Good Samaritan be at fault? No. But we still have a gap in protection for the tragedy of drug overdose.
For the scared young lady who sees her friend passed out, not breathing, we should encourage her to seek help. Right now she isn’t just afraid for her friend possibly dying in front of her, she’s also afraid of prosecution. If she picks up the phone and calls for help anyway, is she any less of a Good Samaritan? No, she is a hero to her friend’s mother. Trust me.
We need to expand our Good Samaritan law because life doesn’t always go as planned. The law should protect people who try to do the right thing and save a life. Calling for help should always be safe.
Christi Berrong is a health care clinical coordinator and life-long resident of central Mississippi. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org