“In the milieu, when there’s an overdose, most people save their own skins and run. Because they have criminal records, arrest warrants, they’re drug dealers or they have drugs on them.”
By Mélina Soucy
That, according to Julie (not her real name), an ex-addict in her mid-30s. The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act passed in Canada in 2017, designed to protect people from arrest who phone 911 to save someone who is ODing, could convince addicts to save their comrades in times of distress.
During the 9 years that she used, Julie never fled when someone around her was overdosing. Two stories stand out for her.
“The first happened when I had just started using. It was Christmas Eve. A guy in his car called me over. He was looking for crack. We were a small gang. We got in his car. The guy showed me pictures of his two little daughters while we were with the dealer.”
Then things went horribly wrong.
“The crisis happened in his car. The other addicts were scared. They pushed the guy out of his own car. They stole everything: his car, his keys, his wallet. I stayed with the family man. He was only an occasional junkie, but he’d been going at it for two days.”
Julie called 911 for the first time. “I was arrested, since I hadn’t appeared on another charge. When they arrest you you’re searched. I still had some dope on me. I told them that before they searched me. Lying does you no good, they’re going to find it anyway.”
This time, the police took Julie to the station house to make sure she appeared. The judge let her go with a warning.
The second time, Julie was nearing the end of her stint using. “Back then I was into heroin, fentanyl, and cannabis. In short, I tried everything. I was at a crack house. Everyone was high, and weren’t ready to react to an eventual crisis. There was a guy ODing on the ground. Everyone ignored him and acted like nothing was happening. It didn’t make sense to leave him there! There was a fire station nearby, so I ran there to seek help,” she recalls.
After putting the ODing man on a stretcher, the police arrested Julie. “I still had dope on me, but I just couldn’t leave him there.” After being brought to the police station, Julie appeared before a judge. And once again, she was freed with a warning.
Today Julie lives with her boyfriend and another roommate. She’s been off drugs for a year and a half and has returned to her studies. After having received her high school equivalency, she wants to become a street social worker and save her peers.
Julie doesn’t think the 2017 law protecting people from arrest if they phone emergency to take care of someone ODing will do much good. The law says that if you are a bystandr and phone 911 to aid someone who is overdosing, then are found with drugs in your possession, you cannot be arrested for possession of drugs. But Julie thinks that nobody really knows the law is in force.
“Organizations and street workers have to inform junkies about this law, to prevent deaths. If not, the law is useless,” says Julie.