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EDITORIAL: Bill could help prevent overdose deaths

The human cost of illegal drug use and overdose is high on Long Island. To think that it could sometimes be avoided by legislative action is tantalizing - and possible.

The Suffolk County Legislature has sent a unanimous home-rule message urging the State Senate to pass a bill known as Good Samaritan 911. The bill would give immunity from prosecution to many calling for emergency medical help for a friend who has overdosed. The bill has passed the Assembly; the Senate should also vote in favor when it convenes again in the fall.

Experts say that a window of three hours often exists between unconsciousness and death in the case of an overdose. As it now stands, people who dial 911, drop off a friend at a hospital, or otherwise try to get care for someone in trouble are subject to prosecution for possession or distribution.

New Mexico and Washington have passed laws to encourage people to seek help instead of leaving friends to die. Like those, the proposal in New York is narrowly written. It would give immunity to 911 callers possessing illegal drugs - or alcohol while underage - but specifically exempts drug dealers. That means that any evidence gleaned from a call or scene could still be used against dealers.

In 2009, there were 225 drug overdoses or drug-related deaths in Suffolk County. In Nassau, the number was 145. It's time the legislature helped turn back this deadly tide. hN