In response to the issue of drug abuse in Parsippany-Troy Hills, the township may join other New Jersey towns in urging state lawmakers to override Gov. Christie's October veto of the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act bill.
After the Township Council's reorganization meeting at Town Hall Thursday night, the body took up the task of finalizing the agenda for its Jan. 15 regular business meeting. Among the items to be discussed is a proposed resolution that calls on the General Assembly and state Senate to take up again the Good Samaritan Act, which would offer limited immunity from prosecution to those who call 911 while trying to assist someone experiencing a drug overdose.
The original bill was passed through both legislative chambers—by the Assembly last May and by the Senate in August 2012—and enjoyed support on both sides of the political aisle. Among those who voted in favor of the measure were District 26 Assembly members BettyLou DeCroce and Jay Webber.
The issue is on the minds of many in Parsippany. Community leaders, clergy, educators, parents and teens came together in December for a Drug Abuse Leadership Summit sponsored by the town's Municipal Alliance Committee. At the event, Patrolman Earl Kinsey, a Parsippany Police Department spokesperson, told attendees that there were four drug overdoses reported locally in 2012.
The proposed resolution's text coming before the Town Council Jan. 15 notes that overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the Garden State and that more than 6,000 New Jersey residents have died from drug overdoses since 2004.
"These deaths are entirely preventable," according to a statement on the website of the Drug Policy Alliance, which endorses the Good Samaritan Act. "The majority of overdose victims do not actually die until several hours after they have taken a drug and most of these deaths occur in the presence of others, meaning that there is both time and opportunity to summon medical assistance. Unfortunately, fear of arrest and prosecution often prevents people from calling 911 and studies show that as a result, help is called for in only half of all overdose emergencies.
"This bill provides limited protection from drug possession charges for a witness who calls 911 in these situations."
Many public health organizations, treatment providers and advocacy groups have joined the Drug Policy Alliance in supporting the measure. Among them are the New Jersey State Nurses Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the New Jersey Hospital Association, the North Jersey Community Research Initiative and the New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs Association.
So far 10 states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Washington—have similar laws in place.
Ten New Jersey municipalities, Roxbury, Audubon, Haddon Heights, Red Bank, National Park, Maple Shade, Gloucester Township, Magnolia, Raritan and Flemington, already have approved resolutions urging the Assembly and Senate to override Christie's veto.
The state legislature can either accept Christie's decision or attempt an override. The latter move would require winning two-thirds of the votes in each chamber: 54 in the Assembly and, in the Senate, 27.
The issue gained national attention in November when the college-age daughter of New Jersey-based musician Jon Bon Jovi was hospitalized after suffering an alleged heroin overdose at her school in New York state. She received medical treatment—and she and a companion who helped her avoided charges—because a Good Samaritan law is in effect there.