No protection for users reporting overdoses

2013-05-01T23:36:00Z 2013-05-02T23:58:18Z No protection for users reporting overdosesBob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com

VALPARAISO | Jean Whittemore said when she called to check on her son at 8 p.m. Feb. 19, the woman with him said he had taken a sleeping pill at his father's home in Valparaiso.

She learned the next morning her son had actually taken heroin and that, while he was showing signs of distress that night, his friend did not seek help until it was too late.

Steven Whittemore was pronounced dead the next morning, about 12 hours after his mother was told he was sleeping.

Jean Whittemore was under the impression her son's friend would have been shielded from arrest had she called for help earlier, but that is not the case in Indiana -- nor in most state's across the nation.

Only 11 states, including Illinois, and the District of Columbia have laws encouraging good Samaritans to summon help in the event of an overdose, according to The Network for Public Health Law. That group's mission is to bring officials together and provide resources to protect and improve public health. 

Some of those states shield individuals from prosecution for possession of drugs, paraphernalia and/or other offenses. Two additional states call on the courts to consider the good Samaritan move at the time of sentencing.

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, who helped to pass a good Samaritan law a couple years ago for emergencies involving alcohol consumption, said she is willing to introduce legislation next year to expand the coverage to include drug cases.

She believes the protection is worth it to save a life and give someone a second chance.

Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel said he believes there is merit in addressing the issue.

Hoosiers are currently under no obligation to report anything other than abuse or neglect involving the elderly or children, he said.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, made news this week when he reversed his stance and came out in favor of a bill allowing drug overdose victims to call 911 without fear of legal repercussions.

This type of law seems to be having a positive impact in Washington state, where 88 percent of drug users surveyed said they are more likely to call for help during an overdose as a result of the legal protections, according to The Network for Public Health Law.

There have been no arrests made in connection with Whittemore's death, according to Valparaiso police Sgt. Michael Grennes.

There was no evidence found that was linked to the young woman and it is not known where the drug was consumed, he said. The decision whether to seek charges is up to the discretion of police officers.

Attempts to reach the woman with Whittemore on the day in question were unsuccessful.

Jean Whittemore, who said her son had a good upbringing and was not known to be a heroin user, is left wishing his friend had called for help that morning when he began having problems breathing.

"If he was making sounds at 7:30 in the morning, there was still life in him," she said.

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