Medical Amnesty---what does this mean and why should parents care? Georgia’s Medical Amnesty law was passed back in April 2014, but many parents I work with are not fully aware of the law and its potential positive impact. Since we are in the thick of summer, where teen party-going tends to be more prevalent, let me take a minute to share with you some details about this law.
Georgia’s Medical Amnesty law protects people who call 911 to seek medical attention for a person who may have overdosed on drugs or alcohol. Neither the person calling 911, nor the victim of the overdose can be arrested, charged, or prosecuted for small amounts of drugs, alcohol or drug paraphernalia when evidence of the crime was found due to an individual seeking medical assistance.
In addition, the law allows first responders and ambulance drivers to keep and administer an “opioid overdose antidote naloxone,” also called an “opioid antagonist,” or “naxolene.” If this drug is given in a timely manner it can reverse the effects of opiates, likes heroin as well as opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone. The law also protects first responders who act in good faith, in the event that something goes wrong in administering the overdose reversal drug.
Often, when numerous teens at a party have been drinking or experimenting with drugs they decide in the heat of moment not to make the critical call for help on behalf of a friend for fear of incriminating themselves. This law was designed to put an end to this fear and encourage anyone in this situation to make that critical call.
While it may seem obvious, reminding our teens and loved ones of the signs of drug and alcohol-related peril to look out for can potentially save a life. The most common sign of an overdose is unresponsiveness, but other signs can include a slow heartbeat or pulse, gasping for breath or gurgling, or even a deep snoring if the person has “passed out”.
Like many laws, there are some exceptions where amnesty may not apply. For example, if large amounts of drugs are found which would result in sale or trafficking charges, individuals could be prosecuted.
It is extremely important that we spread the word about this law, as law enforcement may not always be apprised of how it applies. I recently spoke with a family whose child was in this exact situation and the teen was cited for violation of the law and had to go to court. The family was able to explain in court that the medical amnesty law should apply, and the charges were indeed dropped.
If you are interested in learning more, the Georgia Overdose Prevention organization has some great resources and fact sheets you can check out. Please take a minute to familiarize yourself and your family—you could literally save someone’s life.
Kathryn Boortz has a passion for working with youth and their families. She is the founder of Boortz Law, a law firm that focuses on juvenile defense.