911 medical amnesty law saves a life
by Hilary Butschek
July 07, 2014 04:00 AM | 17007 views | 1 1 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lt. Tanya Smith poses with an example of Naloxone Hydrochloride Injections at her office on Thursday.<br>Staff/C.B. Schmelter
Lt. Tanya Smith poses with an example of Naloxone Hydrochloride Injections at her office on Thursday.
Staff/C.B. Schmelter
Tanya Smith
Tanya Smith
Taylor Smith
Taylor Smith
Sharon Cooper
Sharon Cooper
MARIETTA — Tanya Smith, a retired Holly Springs police lieutenant, never thought her child would break the law.

But after watching her 20-year-old daughter, Taylor, become thin and gaunt in the space of a few months, Smith knew something was wrong.

Taylor later told her mother she had become addicted to heroin, and after a few bouts of rehabilitation, had taken methamphetamine as a way to combat her cravings.

Her plan backfired when she had a bad reaction to the drug.

“She lay there in that room for hours, dying, while her friends tried to figure out what to do with her,” Tanya Smith said.

If someone had called the police for help, Smith said, her daughter may have received medical treatment to keep her alive. But because the three people with her were scared to get caught with drugs, Smith said, they put Taylor’s inhaler beside her and left. Taylor died of a drug-induced asthma attack in September of 2013.

Smith said she has since made it her mission to help police save more lives through a new law that relieves bystanders of the fear of being arrested on drug charges.

“Regardless of what you’ve gotten yourself into, you should know that law enforcement will be able to get you out of it,” Smith said.

Smith supported the efforts of state Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-east Cobb) to pass the Georgia 9-1-1 Medical Amnesty Law (HB 965), which was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal on April 24.

The law went into effect the day it was signed and allows anyone who calls police to help someone who is near death to be excused from drug charges. The bill also encourages police to carry a drug called naloxone, which counters the effects of opiate drugs and can revive someone who has overdosed.

Smith brought the drug to Holly Springs police officers in June, and within a week, officers used it to save a 24-year-old woman who had overdosed and was having seizures, she said.

“It makes me feel like Taylor did not die in vain — that something good came out of her death,” Smith said.

Details of the law

Cooper said she saw a need for the amnesty law when one of her interns, Justin Leef, gave her the idea. Leef, a law student at Georgia State University, has had friends in college die from overdoses.

“We passed a bill that said if one person will stay with the person that’s in severe physical distress and near death, and you’ll call 911 and stay with them until they get there, you won’t be prosecuted,” Cooper said.

The part of the law allowing police to carry naloxone was added when Cooper said she heard from supporters the only thing police can do when they get to a scene is administer CPR.

“Police officers are the first people to get to the scene, and all they can do is sit there and wait until the paramedics get there,” Cooper said.

Neither the Marietta, nor the Cobb police departments carry naloxone.

“I would really like for more police forces to be able to carry it,” Cooper said.

Officers from both police departments said they rely on local fire departments, who carry the drug and arrive to an overdose case at about the same time police get there.

“(Naloxone) has to be kept between certain temperatures, and there are maintenance issues,” Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn said.

Passing the law

Leef and Cooper weren’t alone at the Georgia Capitol. A group of dedicated mothers who had lost children to drug overdoses campaigned to pass the bill.

Robin Cardiges, whose 20-year-old son, Stephen, died Aug. 12, 2012, after an accidental heroin overdose, said she took off work as a systems engineer at DentFirst in Lawrenceville to help pass the law.

“It occurred to me that the way to get this done was to be down there at the Capitol every day and hand out photos and tell (Stephen’s) story, and that’s what I did,” Cardiges said.

Other mothers joined her at the Capitol, and they all found the best way to campaign was also the hardest.

Robin Elliot, a real estate agent in the Morning Side area of Atlanta, said she supported the cause after her 21-year-old son, Zack, died of a heroin overdose May 1, 2011.

“It was like every day being down there (at the Capitol) we’d rip the scab off and just start talking about our kids, and we’d go home that night and cry. The scab would grow back, and then we’d go back the next day and rip it off again,” Elliot said.

Success of the law

The law will help others not have to suffer in the future, Smith said.

“For me, to be a part of giving someone else the chance I didn’t get makes me feel like maybe (Taylor’s) life wasn’t so tragic — that maybe someone learned from her death,” Smith said.

The moms all agree the next step is to spread awareness about the law.

“We’re not giving up now,” Elliot said. “It’s not enough that it’s passed. Now, people need to know about it because saving a life is so much more important than arresting one more longtime drug user.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Hope arrested
July 07, 2014
I hope those friends were arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter! They should be in jail!
*We welcome your comments on the stories and issues of the day and seek to provide a forum for the community to voice opinions. All comments are subject to moderator approval before being made visible on the website but are not edited. The use of profanity, obscene and vulgar language, hate speech, and racial slurs is strictly prohibited. Advertisements, promotions, and spam will also be rejected. Please read our terms of service for full guides