More than 150 concerned community members, families of those suffering from substance abuse, or whose loved ones lost their battles, and County officials joined together on the front steps of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building on Wednesday to light the dome purple in recognition of New York State’s 911 Good Samaritan Law.
The 911 Good Samaritan Law, enacted in September 2011, protects individuals from being charged with misdemeanor drug possession when calling for help during medical emergencies involving substance abuse. The law does not protect people from arrest for other offenses, such as selling or trafficking drugs, or driving while drugged. These policies protect only the caller and overdose victim from arrest and/or prosecution for simple drug possession, possession of paraphernalia, and/or being under the influence.
“Overdose deaths are now the leading cause of accidental death in the nation, exceeding even motor vehicle accidents among people ages 25 to 64,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano told the crowd. “The chance of surviving an overdose, like that of surviving a heart attack, depends greatly on how fast one receives medical assistance.”
Many accidental overdose deaths are preventable, if emergency medical service is called in time, but people using drugs or alcohol illegally often fear arrest if they call 911.
Linda Hanson, a Garden City resident, shared the story of her brother Michael, who died from overdose after a friend, fearing prosecution, failed to call 911 for help.
“Michael’s death is such an important example for the need to publicize the 911 Good Samaritan Law,” said Hanson. “If this person knew that he was protected by the law and he called 911, maybe Michael would have had a second chance at life and at recovery…The person who he was with did not call 911 because he feared that he would get in trouble because he was high too.”
By reintroducing the 911 Good Samaritan Law, County Executive Mangano along with Legislator Denise Ford and Legislator Laura Schaefer hope to prevent overdose deaths like Michael’s and help save lives.
“It is very important that we bring awareness to both overdose prevention, and the Good Samaritan law,” said Legislator Ford. “If you witness a drug overdose, please call 911. You could save a life.”
Hanson reminded those gathered that every notable movement was only ever successful by people advocating together for the same cause. “Together, we spread awareness about the 911 Good Samaritan Law,” she said. “Together, we can save lives and make a difference. “
Kicking off the Overdose prevention/dome lighting ceremony was Dr. James Dolan – director of Nassau County’s Office of Mental Health & Chemical Dependency. Dolan said that it was County Executive Mangano’s “vision and ability to respond effectively to his constituents that enabled Nassau County to become first County in NYS to offer public Narcan training to ordinary citizens.”
To date, the County has hosted about 60 overdose prevention and Narcan training seminars where almost 2,000 participants have learned to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose, perform rescue breathing, and administer Narcan.
Legislator Denise Ford, who advocated for the re-promotion of the 911 Good Sam Law, urged those in attendance to start getting the overdose prevention message “out from inside of our homes and start talking about it publicly.”
“We must start letting people know that every life is worth saving regardless of who the person is or what they are doing,” Ford said. “We should not be the judge, but we should be the caretaker. We must make sure that we do whatever we can to save the life of somebody because it is somebody’s child.”
To further combat accidental overdose deaths, the Mangano administration is hosting numerous lifesaving seminars throughout the County. The seminars, open to the general public, offer training on how to administer Narcan, or Naloxone, a medication that can reverse the fatal effects of an Opiate overdose as well as information on how to access substance abuse treatment and recovery programs.
At a ceremony before Wednesday’s dome lighting, Angie Ruhry – along with her husband Karl and daughter Melissa – held up a framed photo of her son, Peter, who died from an overdose in 2011. Eighteen months before Peter died, he suffered his first overdose and was saved by Narcan. Ruhry spoke about how grateful she was for the extra 18 months the family got to spend with Peter while he was working on his recovery.
Upcoming Narcan seminars will take place, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., on:
- July 17th at Elmont Firehouse: 95 Lehrer Avenue
- July 30th at Bayville Firehouse: 258 Bayville Avenue
- August 9th at Mitchel Field Athletic Complex (Health Fair):1 Charles Lindbergh Blvd
- October 2nd at Massapequa High School: 4925 Merrick Road
- October 9th at Garden City High School: 170 Rockaway Avenue
Attendees over the age of 18 will receive a free Narcan kit at the end of the training program. No prior medical experience is necessary to participate in the training. Narcan has been on ambulances and in emergency rooms for decades; however, State law allows ordinary citizens to administer it in an emergency situation without fear of a lawsuit or arrest. To attend, please RSVP to Eden Laikin at email@example.com or by calling (516) 571-6105.