New Jersey Governor Vetos Immunity for 911 Overdose Calls

Talk to a Counselor Now

1 (800) 570-4562

New Jersey Governor Vetos Immunity for 911 Overdose Calls A sad story to behold is that of Corey Ressler. In July of 2010, Corey, along with some friends, took a street drug cocktail that claimed his life. That night, somebody used Corey's phone to call 911, but they hung up before the call could connect. Corey's father, Paul Ressler, believes that whoever tried to make the lifesaving call thought twice before exposing him or herself to possible prosecution for drug offenses.

Since then Ressler has worked on the Governor's Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, promoting a potential law he wished was in existence at the time his son overdosed two years ago. Last year, the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act was proposed to Gov. Christie. The law was designed to encourage drug users to call 911 if they witness an overdose, themselves included, by protecting them from legal consequences. Under this bill, those who seek medical attention would be protected from arrest, charge, prosecution, or conviction related to the possession or use of a controlled harmful substance founded by the first responders.

The bill was supported overwhelmingly in both houses of the state Legislature, along with Ressler and countless others residents of NJ. However, Gov. Christie vetoed the bill earlier this month over concerns that the new law would give drug dealers a "free pass." Supporters and Ressler alike were devastated by the news of the bill's rejection.

So far, Gov. Christie has generally been open to addiction treatment options. Ressler said he was proud when Christie announced the expansion of the state's drug court program. The program puts non-violent offenders into rehab rather than prison. Ressler also said that he was confused when Christie slapped down the Samaritan bill with a conditional veto that called for more studies.

Ressler's logic stands: that if Christie is not going to put a person in jail when they get arrested for a non-violent crime, why would a person attempting to save their own or another's life be arrested? As a part of the veto, Christie directed that the state criminal justice department conduct an 18-month investigation on overdose reporting. Many feel that this investigation on a bill that places lives above the law is too time-consuming, and could cost countless further fatalities before it's even passed.

Christie stands firm that he will not allow drug dealers a free pass just for calling emergency response. Legislative supporters of the bill are further bothered by this claim. The bill originally did not provide immunity from distribution. Assemblyman Dan Benson remarked, "That person, if he was a drug dealer, could still be charged with that..." The bill is really meant to protect the average drug user, who is with a friend, who is seeing somebody overdose and may be afraid to call 911 because of legal implications. Many are also certain that the Samaritan bill would not only prevent overdose deaths, but also point addicts towards rehabilitation.

With similar bills working in other states to reduce harm and casualties due to drug abuse, many in the community of New Jersey are hopeful that Christie will rule in favor of passing the bill in the future.