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New amnesty law has limited impact in area

POSTED: July 21, 2014 1:32 a.m.

Despite Gov. Nathan Deal signing a medical amnesty bill three months ago, the new law allowing for immunities on arrests when a person seeks emergency services has not had many noticeable effects in the purview of law enforcement or medical staff.

The bill attempted to assuage angst for calling 911 in fear of being later prosecuted for drug use or underage alcohol consumption.

Hall County Sheriff’s Office and Gainesville Police did not have any documentation of the new law’s effect on overdoses or criminal prosecution.

“Typically those calls are handled as a medical call and law enforcement is not even contacted unless there are some extenuating circumstances,” Hall County Sheriff’s Office Spokeswoman Nicole Bailes wrote in an email.

Northeast Georgia Medical Center spokesman Sean Couch said the law likewise has had no effect so far on the operations of the emergency department.

“We have not seen an increase in visits to the ED as a result of this bill, nothing we could directly attribute to it,” Couch said.

While not much has been seen in Hall County, the law has already saved a life. Police in Holly Springs administered naloxone to a patient. The drug is an opioid overdose antidote made more available after the law was enacted.

“That was administered by an officer with the Holly Springs Police Department, and that was six days after the police department had gotten naloxone and had been trained on naloxone administration,” said Jeremy Sharp, a student at the University of North Georgia and founder of UNG’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. “So within six days of them getting trained and all that stuff, they had saved a 24-year-old woman’s life.”

Gainesville Police does not carry naloxone, with overdoses being handled by Northeast Georgia Medical Center, Gainesville Police Spokesman Cpl. Joe Britte said.

“I think within a year or two we’re going to save a couple of lives with it,” Sharp said.

As students return to Gainesville for another year of school, Sharp hopes others at UNG and colleges across the state are aware of the new law.

“I’m extremely hopeful that people will be informed on the law, and when situations arise or medical attention is needed ... they’ll do the right thing and call for help,” he said.

With the first of the academic year right around the corner, Sharp and the University of North Georgia Students for Sensible Drug Policy have collaborated with deans and Greek life leaders to create a school-wide version of the law.

“I think it is important that we have a medical amnesty policy at the school, just because it has the potential to save lives,” Sharp said.


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