The heroin epidemic has surged in Kentucky in the last decade. According to the Office of Drug Policy, of the 722 overdose deaths autopsied by the Kentucky Medical Examiner in 2013, 230 overdoses (31.9 percent) were attributed to heroin. Compare that to 143 (19.6 percent) in 2012 and 42 (3 percent) in 2011.
Our client, Shatterproof’s goal was to implement a “No Charge” Good Samaritan law and expand naloxone access for first responders and hospitals. There are two different types of Good Samaritan Law, but the two are very different. The first is “No Charge” Good Samaritan, which allows a person to report an overdose to authorities (calling 911) without fear of arrest, providing the person stays with the victim until a first-responder arrives. The second version is “Defense” Good Samaritan, which allows a person to report an overdose to authorities, except the caller will be arrested and could be prosecuted, but can use their actions as a plea to gain immunity from the charge. Of the 25 states that have enacted Good Samaritan language for heroin overdoses, 23 of them had chosen “No Charge” Good Samaritan version.
The 2015 General Assembly offered eight “Heroin Bills” for consideration. Each bill varied, including or excluding different issues that involved diverse constituencies: Naloxone access, needle exchange, penalties for trafficking, penalties for possession, needle stick immunity, Good Samaritan for reporting an overdose, rehabilitation funding, and numerous hospital administrative concerns. Though every legislator wanted to save lives of addicts and users, there were many philosophies on how to accomplish the goal.
As the two most discussed and popular bills of each chamber started to move through the process, we built a coalition of advocates and grassroots volunteers to surround the legislators with phone calls, emails, letters to the editor, and social media. Senate Bill 5 and House Bill 213 both included “Defense” versions of Good Samaritan. We approached the House Judiciary Chair and sponsor of HB 213, educating him on “No Charge” and alleviating fears he had about the constitutionality of the language. He added it as an amendment, and we worked to get the amendment into HB 213 which was sent over to the Senate.
We worked with both Judiciary Chairs, of opposite parties in both the Senate and the House toward our two goals. The House Judiciary Committee stripped Senate Bill 192 and put language in that looked a lot like HB 213, including “No Charge” Good Samaritan language. When SB 192 went to Conference Committee, we focused on the 10 members of the committee with information about why “No Charge” Good Samaritan law would be the most effective. Through our focus on PR efforts with our coalition partners, we kept the pressure and made information available to all the legislators while the opposition stuck to their same ineffective argument.
When the compromise was announced on the last day of session, every member on the Conference Committee had agreed to the “No Charge” Good Samaritan language. The bill passed the House unanimously 100-0 and the Senate 34-4. Governor Steve Beshear signed the bill the next morning with an emergency clause that enacted the legislation immediately.