PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Following the swift passage of identical bills in the House and Senate yesterday, Governor Gina M. Raimondo signed the Good Samaritan Act of 2016 into law today. The law reinstates and expands important legal protections for those who seek medical assistance for individuals experiencing a drug overdose. Bill sponsors Representative Robert E. Craven, Sr. and Senator Michael J. McCaffrey, members of the General Assembly, and members of the recovery community joined Raimondo for the signing at Anchor Recovery Community Center in Pawtucket.
"Drug overdose is a public health crisis that cuts across every community in Rhode Island," said Raimondo. "I applaud the General Assembly for passing these bills quickly. Their focus reflects my top priority on this issue: Save lives. By removing barriers to contacting emergency services during overdose situations, this law is an important part of our efforts to reduce opioid overdose deaths and help more people make it in Rhode Island."
Raimondo plans to work with the General Assembly to secure funding for overdose prevention, addiction treatment and recovery support, and Medicaid funding to support and expand peer recovery coach programs.
At the bill signing today, Raimondo also announced that the State will direct more than $40,000 in Google settlement funds to be used by the Rhode Island State Police and local police departments to purchase and distribute Naloxone in the communities hardest hit by drug overdose.
"First and foremost, we're concerned with saving lives. If someone knows that calling 911 is probably going to result in their going to jail, they're going to be very hesitant to do it. Nobody benefits from that situation," said Senator McCaffrey, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The enforcement of drug laws matters, but for real public safety, saving lives has to come first. No one should be afraid to make a phone call to save a life."
"Saving a life is much more important than a drug arrest. Ultimately, nothing should ever discourage someone from trying to provide assistance to someone who is dying," said Representative Craven, chairman of the House Municipal Government Committee.
Jonathon Goyer, a recovery advocate, testified in support of the legislation earlier this month and shared his personal story of addiction, overdose and recovery. Both his father and brother died of overdoses. Goyer started using drugs himself when he was 12. In 2013, Goyer experienced an overdose and was saved when someone administered Naloxone.
"With the passage of this bill, no one has to think twice about making the 911 call," said Goyer. "More importantly, it validates the important fact that every life is worth saving."
Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force submitted a strategic plan to the Governor in December and laid out four complementary strategies to cut the number of overdose deaths in Rhode Island by one-third in the next three years.
"The Good Samaritan law is an essential part of our response to the drug overdose crisis in Rhode Island," said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. "When someone is overdosing, every second counts. Ensuring that first responders get to the scene as quickly as possible and start delivering potentially life-saving care is good public health policy and good government policy."
"To save lives, seeking help in a medical emergency has to be the priority," said Maria Montanaro, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. "We deeply appreciate the swift passage of the Good Samaritan law and commend the General Assembly members and the many community advocates who contributed to advancing this legislation. This law is an essential component of the great work happening in Rhode Island to address substance use disorders and reduce overdose deaths, and we look forward to building on these efforts through the work of the Governor's Overdose Task Force."
The Good Samaritan Act of 2016 provides certain immunity against arrest to any individual who calls for medical assistance when someone is experiencing an overdose. The Good Samaritan Act was originally passed in 2012 with a three-year sunset provision, which expired last year.
Please see the links below for the text of the House and Senate bills.