Livin’ on More Than a Prayer: In Praise of the Good Samaritan Law

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

Chris_Christie_at_townhallA rock icon and a Republican governor aren’t the most likely duo, but that’s exactly what we saw last week when Jon Bon Jovi joined Governor Chris Christie for the signing of New Jersey’s Good Samaritan law.

New Jersey became the 12th state to enact this law, which encourages people to seek medical help for overdose victims without fear of arrest for drug possession.  Flanked by families who had lost relatives to drug overdose, Governor Christie cited an “obligation…to do everything we can to prevent these tragic deaths.”  Bon Jovi, whose daughter nearly died of an overdose last year, praised Christie’s actions and called on other states to “follow in his footsteps.”

I couldn’t agree more.  In America, drug overdose deaths have been on the rise for eleven consecutive years.  According to the CDC, drug overdose was responsible for nearly 40,000 fatalities in 2010.  And, due to the surge in prescription drug abuse, medications like OxyContin now account for more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.  This is a major public health issue, and as Christie put it, we must do everything we can to address it.  Bill Clinton recently pledged to cut overdose deaths within five years by working with agencies to improve drug monitoring programs and raising awareness on college campuses.  The Good Samaritan law is another important prevention tactic.  If granting immunity from arrest can incentivize someone to pick up the phone and save a life, then that’s what state governments should do.

Governor Christie is a politician who has the courage of his convictions.  He demonstrated a similar level of leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, as well as in his support of treatment vs. incarceration for non-violent drug offenders. Having previously vetoed the Good Samaritan law twice, he has also shown that he’s willing to re-examine previous decisions.  Wouldn’t it be great if all politicians in Washington showed a similar level of retrospection?


As for Bon Jovi, I commend him for using his celebrity as a force for good.  We know celebrities can have a huge impact on public opinion because people listen to what they have to say.  When stars use their fame positively and courageously, they can lead society toward enlightened thinking.  Bon Jovi’s support of the Good Samaritan law—and his willingness to speak candidly about his daughter’s struggles—sends the message that there’s no shame in acknowledging one’s experience with addiction.  The singer is not only standing by his daughter, but he’s also supporting others who struggle with this chronic health condition.  Reading about Lindsay Lohan’s latest troubles, I couldn’t help but wish that she had the same fatherly guidance.  Everyone who is impacted by this disease deserves a champion.

The point is that drug addiction can affect anyone’s child, whether you’re a rock star, a governor, or an average Joe.  That’s why the Good Samaritan Law is a win for all of us.  If fewer people are afraid to call 911 to report an overdose, more lives will be saved.  That means more sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers will have the opportunity Bon Jovi’s daughter had: the chance to enter treatment and start a new life in recovery.  It may take unconventional partnerships to reduce overdose tragedies and ensure that more Americans have access to the help they need, but as this governor and singer have shown us, it’s time to think outside the box.

Howard Meitiner
President and CEO
Phoenix House



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