Did you know that since May 4th, 2017, you can benefit from judicial protection if you phone 911 to come to someone’s aid?
By Mélina Soucy
In response to the number of deaths caused by opioids like fentanyl, the federal government passed a Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act.
Before, such “Good Samaritan” laws simply obliged a person to come to someone’s aid if they could. They were more of a “Duty to Rescue” law, familiar to anyone who saw the last episode of the TV series “Seinfeld.”
But this federal law means that as a bystander, if you phone 911 to help someone who is overdosing and you are found with drugs in your possession, that evidence cannot be used against you, and the police cannot arrest you for simple possession.
The law also applies to people who are on parole or on probation for a drug crime. You have not violated the terms of your release if found with drugs.
Most ODs in Canada are as a result of fentanyl, says Christopher, a trainer with Méta d’Âme, an association that helps opioid users reintegrate back into society. “More and more drugs, such as phencyclidine, are cut with fentanyl to increase their effect. We want to change that with our training program for everybody, including drug users. But it’s tough to get through to them.”
Their training program, offered free of charge, is called PROFAM, for prevent, reduce overdoses, form (train) and access naloxone. Naloxone is a medication used as an antidote to opioid overdoses. Intervenors and users take separate training programs, but the same ground is covered by both.
“The biggest fear of those users we train,” says Christopher, “is that they’ll be arrested when they call for help. In crack houses, it’s not unusual to see someone ODing thrown out onto the sidewalk. So we tell them about the Good Samaritan Law. Since we started our training program there hasn’t been one arrest. The police in places like Hochelaga-Maisonneuve have been made aware of this reality.”
The program takes a full day and teaches people how to identify an opioid overdose, prevent one, and act if one happens.
The steps for saving someone ODing are simple. First, phone 911. Then, inject the first naloxone dosage from a naloxone kit that Méta d’Âme provides at the end of the training session. Next, perform CPR for 5 minutes. Then, finally, inject a second dosage of naloxone.
Training sessions are offered across Quebec thanks in part to a grant from the provincial health and social services ministry.
Helping Out in Quebec
Editor’s Note: Quebec is the only province where a person has a general duty to help another, as outlined in the Quebec Charter of Rights. No other province requires its citizens to help someone in distress in the case of an emergency.
Naloxone kits are available for free in some Quebec pharmacies to those with a health card, or who appear to the pharmacist to need the drug.