Overdose law supported by WVU leader and local delegate

Prescription-Drugs-525x350MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A West Virginia Good Samaritan law is among the 40 to take effect this month.

Senate Bill 523 is considered an overdose law to prevent alcohol and drug related deaths.

According to West Virginia Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, the idea began in interim legislative sessions in 2013 and 2014.

Fleischauer and constituents were seeking a way to provide amnesty to witnesses who call 911 in an alcohol overdose.

“This basically says if you make that call and you follow these common sense provisions, you won’t be prosecuted for underage drinking or possession of a controlled substance,” explained Fleischauer. “We want that call to be made.”

Among the supporters is West Virginia University’s Dean of Students Corey Farris.

“Our students are part of a greater community that’s struggling to deal with alcohol and drug issues. So, it’s one of those tools we’re excited about and have certainly been supportive of because we want all of our students safe and alive and graduate,” expressed Farris.

In 2015, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin introduced the legislation that provides limited immunity from prosecution for a person who calls authorities to help a person who appears to be experiencing the affects of an overdose.  It includes some provisions from legislation discussed in previous sessions.

“The family, the friends, the parents, we can’t afford to lose anyone because someone makes a stupid decision that they don’t know what the consequences are,” Fleischauer said.

Farris spoke of what that means for young adults on campus.

“We know students aren’t supposed to drink until they’re 21. But, we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand and believe students aren’t going to. Students are learning how to drink. They’re learning their own limits. There’s new stresses, and even if they’ve had something to drink before or using drugs, they need to know there’s help available for them if they get into something over their heads as well as their peers, their friends, watching out for them.”

Farris added WVU leaders will  inform students of the bill.

“Well have a campaign because we want the tool to be available to save a life if necessary. We’re excited the police will be able to use their discretion on filing charges and not filing charges. And similarly, within WVU, when we hear students called for help and called police, we’re going to pay attention through our student conduct procedures also. That doesn’t mean everyone is completely off the hook for everything but certainly is there a way for people to call for help without worrying about further action being taken by the police or by the university, we want that tool there.”

The law is now in place, exactly 7 months to the day after WVU freshman Nolan Burch overdosed with a bottle of liquor during a fraternity pledge event.

“Certainly none of us were there except for a handful of people when Nolan got into trouble. Perhaps if this tool were there, if students knew they could call 911 without getting in trouble, maybe they would have made that call.”

By the time authorities were called, Burch was already unconscious. He died days later at a local hospital.

Both Farris and Fleischauer emphasized the legislation does not eliminate all legal ramifications.

“The person who is passed out, that person is not excused.  That person can be prosecuted.  The judge can give them immunity if they get into a substance abuse program or some kind of deferred prosecution,” said Fleischauer.