‘Good Sa­mar­i­tan’ law ex­pected to save lives

Makes call­ing 911 dur­ing over­dose less in­tim­i­dat­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MOLLY HAYES mhayes@thes­pec.com 905-526-3214 | @mol­ly­hayes

After be­ing passed in the House of Com­mons this week, Good Sa­mar­i­tan leg­is­la­tion is set to be­come law in Canada, mak­ing it less in­tim­i­dat­ing for drug users to call 911 in an over­dose emer­gency.

“I have no doubt this will save lives,” says Michael Parkin­son, who works with the Water­loo Re­gion Crime Preven­tion Coun­cil and the Mu­nic­i­pal Drug Strate­gies Co­or­di­na­tor’s Net­work of On­tario.

Thou­sands of peo­ple are dy­ing of drug over­doses across Canada each year as a re­sult of a deadly opi­oid cri­sis.

“We know that 911 is called less than half of the time (in these cases),” Parkin­son said Wed­nes­day. “And we know that a prin­ci­pal bar­rier is fear of en­tan­gle­ment with the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.”

Sup­ported by all par­ties, Bill C-224 will pro­vide im­mu­nity from drug pos­ses­sion or breach charges to any one seek­ing emer­gency as­sis­tance for an over­dose.

The leg­is­la­tion is set to re­ceive royal as­sent early this month.

Other charges such as driv­ing while im­paired or drug traf­fick­ing will not fall un­der the ex­emp­tion, blurry ter­ri­tory given that, un­der the Con­trolled Drugs and Sub­stances Act’s def­i­ni­tion, traf­fick­ing can in­clude “giving” some­one drugs.

Ron McK­in­non, the B.C. Lib­eral MP who spon­sored the pri­vate mem­ber’s bill last year, uses the ex­am­ple of kids ex­per­i­ment­ing with drugs at a party. If a friend starts to over­dose, he warned they might de­bate call­ing for help out of fear of get­ting in trou­ble.

“Time is life in a sit­u­a­tion like this,” McK­in­non ar­gued last sum­mer.

The law will also pro­tect peo­ple who are breach­ing pa­role, pro­ba­tion or a court or­der by using or be­ing around drugs; peo­ple who may worry that a 911 call to save a life could cost them their own free­dom.

More than 734 peo­ple died of opi­oid-re­lated causes in On­tario in 2015 alone, the equiv­a­lent of two peo­ple ev­ery day. Close to 50 of them were in Hamil­ton.

Ex­perts say that death toll is on the rise, with the growing promi­nence of po­tent boot­leg painkillers such as fen­tanyl and car­fen­tanil, of­ten mixed into other drugs.

“We all look around us and see … the car­nage that is sweep­ing the na­tion in terms of over­dose deaths,” McK­in­non said. “While this is not go­ing to solve the prob­lem, it will re­duce the im­pact of it. It’s one tool in a tool box. It will save lives and that’s the point.”

The next step will be to raise aware­ness.

Kirsten Mat­ti­son, di­rec­tor of con­trolled sub­stances at Health Canada, told a se­nate com­mit­tee in March, her of­fice would be dis­tribut­ing pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als about the new law once it’s fi­nal­ized.

Parkin­son stresses that it’s not only im­por­tant for drug users to un­der­stand their rights un­der the new law, but also so­cial ser­vice agen­cies and po­lice forces.

“The po­lice en­force­ment agen­cies, pros­e­cu­tors, de­fence lawyers — they are all part of the group of peo­ple that need to op­er­a­tional­ize the act,” Parkin­son says. “There’s no ques­tion this will save lives … now we just have to let peo­ple know about it.”

DAR­RYL DYCK, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A man walks past a mu­ral by street artist Smokey D. painted as a re­sponse to the fen­tanyl and opi­oid over­dose cri­sis, in Van­cou­ver, B.C., in De­cem­ber 2016. A wave of opi­oid over­doses has swept the na­tion.

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