Addictions Counselor Speaks Out: “We Need 911 Good Samaritan Laws”
Interview with Anne Lamberti, Clinical Addiction Specialist
Add one more voice to the clamor for 911 Good Samaritan laws in North Carolina: substance abuse counselors. 911 Good Samaritan laws, which would allow witnesses to a drug overdose to call for help by removing criminal liability for drug possession for the victim and the caller, are gaining traction among the addictions treatment community. And who better to comment on drug policy than the professionals who face a parade of broken lives every day?
Anne Lamberti is a licensed clinical addiction specialist at Southlight Judicial Services in Wake County, North Carolina. She sees firsthand the devastation that drug addiction can cause. But she sees something else equally disturbing – people being arrested after calling 911 to save someone’s life.
“I had a young client who was cited by police for seeking help for a friend,” says Lamberti. “He was at a suburban party where kids were taking fistfuls of pills and one of his friends had an adverse reaction. My client wanted to call for help, but the other kids didn’t want police involvement because they were afraid of their parents finding out. My client did the right thing and drove his friend to the hospital, but in the car on the way, she started to assault him. The police pulled him over and cited him on drug charges.”
Unfortunately, the case above isn’t Lamberti’s only client who has been cited after placing a 911 call. “The way I see it,” she says, “young kids get into a lot of foolish stuff. If someone has the good judgment to call for help, they should not be arrested.”
In the absence of 911 Good Samaritan laws in North Carolina, it is not uncommon for someone who calls 911 to save the life of a friend to be arrested on drug possession charges. In fact, studies show that fear of law enforcement deters more than half of witnesses from calling for help, leading to preventable death from overdose.
“We shouldn’t allow [these arrests] just to prove a point about illicit drug use,” says Lamberti. “With the increase in opiate pill use, overdose is increasing and people are dying…the current law is actually contributing to death due to overdose. It doesn’t make sense to put a barrier between people helping each other, whatever the circumstances.”
Arresting someone who calls 911 not only affects the person charged, but also decreases the likelihood that others will call for help in the future. “If one person gets a drug charge for saving someone’s life, that person will tell all their friends and then nobody will call 911,” explains Lamberti.
Lamberti dismisses critics’ argument that 911 Good Samaritan laws would encourage drug use or give users a “free pass.”
The 911 Good Samaritan law is about saving lives. Discouraging people from calling 911 doesn’t prevent people from using [drugs], it doesn’t reduce drug use and it increases deaths due to overdose. If there is any way to make an impact on users at the scene of an overdose perhaps the police could give out information on treatment options instead of citations.
“There is a problem with using drugs and there is a problem with people dying of overdose. If we are going to address the drug problem, we need to address the dying too.”
For more information on how to get involved with 911 Good Samaritan laws and overdose prevention in North Carolina, visit www.nchrc.org.