A coalition of grassroots harm reduction advocates and lawmakers are calling on Gov. Janet Mills and other lawmakers to stand with them as allies to confront what they describe as an “overdose apocalypse.”
The coalition is calling for strengthening the state’s “Good Samaritan” law, a 2019 law signed by the governor meant to protect a person at the scene of an overdose from arrest or prosecution if they call 911 for assistance.
The current law protects the person who reports an overdose and a person who is overdosing — rather than everyone at the scene — from a small set of criminal offenses. The narrow scope of the law is costing lives because people are too scared to call 911, the advocates said at a press conference at the State House on Thursday.
“We are aware that Governor Mills is in opposition of this bill. While we respect her opinion we fundamentally disagree with her analysis,” said Courtney Allen, policy director at the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project.
Allen continued, “Our direct ask is for her to come to the table and negotiate with us in good faith. She ran on the notion that she would act as an ally to my community. Allies listen to the community that they are allied with and we are telling her that we need a good, strong Good Samaritan law. We are telling her that we need her to be our ally.”
The advocates spoke to the media and handed out purple ribbons to lawmakers ahead of Mills’ state of the state speech Thursday evening, urging lawmakers to keep their pledges to take on the state’s overdose epidemic and pass LD 1862, a bill that would change Maine law so that any person at the scene of an overdose in which a good faith effort is made to call for assistance is protected from arrest or prosecution.
More than 60 people impacted by the epidemic testified for more than four hours in a public hearing on Wednesday in favor of the bill.
Michael Sauschuck, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, testified against the bill on Wednesday on behalf of Mills administration, claiming — despite testimony to the contrary — that the current Good Samaritan law has been effective and that LD 1862 would go too far.
Sen. Chloe Maxmin (D-Lincoln County), the sponsor of LD 1862, urged her fellow lawmakers to stand in solidarity with the harm reduction activists and Maine families who have lost loved ones from preventable deaths.
A record number of people lost their lives in 2021 due to the overdose crisis. That number reached 636 deaths last year; twelve a week, or nearly two people a day.
“For all of us who campaigned on confronting the drug epidemic, this is the time,” said Maxmin. “We call on the governor to recognize the urgent need for LD 1862 and we asked our fellow legislators to wear these purple ribbons today to bring the calls for action into this powerful building where decisions can be made to ignore the cries for help or to stand up and fight.”
Maxmin’s bill has bipartisan support. She was joined at the press conference by Republican co-sponsor Sen. Marianne Moore of Washington County, a supporter of the 2019 bill, LD 329, that was passed to create the current Good Samaritan law.
“Times are much different nowadays and we tried to address that difference when we passed LD 329 in 2019,” Moore said. “Unfortunately, that Good Samaritan law didn’t go far enough.”
Author: Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Maine Beacon, February 10, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/advocates-ask-mills-to-negotiate-in-good-faith-on-good-samaritan-law/