Bystanders who don't help overdose victims for fear of charges prompt reminder from RCMP
Bystanders who call for emergency help for a drug overdose are protected by law from some charges, police are reminding Albertans.
RCMP are issuing the message after counting several instances over the past three years where bystanders appeared hesitant to call for help because they were scared of legal repercussions.
In the three years from January 2016 to December 2018, Alberta saw 1,971 opioid-related overdose deaths.
"In the past, some people have been hesitant in contacting us," said Cpl. Ronald Bumbry.
That time is precious, he added.
"When you're dealing with an overdose, seconds count."
With police, Health Canada and the Chief Medical Officer of Health Alberta are reminding the public of the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act.
The act protects people who experience or witness an overdose and call 911 or for emergency help, whether they stay at or leave the scene.
Officials believe more tragedies can be prevented if people aren't scared of reporting an overdose for fear of being arrested.
"We want the general public to know that this act does exist... (and) to become familiar with it," Bumbry said.
Petra Schulz, a woman whose son died by a fentanyl overdose in 2014 and who lobbied for the act with Moms Stop the Harm, says there are members of the organization who would not be suffering today if a bystander had called for help faster.
"We were very pleased when (the act) came in," she told CTV News Edmonton, but said the group feels like it has since flown under the public's radar.
"In many cases, the call is not made and it can end tragic."
People can be protected from charges for possession of drugs or breaching conditions regarding pre-trial release, probation orders and conditional sentences or parole.
The act does not protect people from more serious offences, such as production and trafficking of drugs.
Others at the scene are also protected.
Anyone who witnesses an overdose is asked to call for emergency help and help in any way they can. That may mean administering the drug naloxone, first aid, CPR or staying with the person until emergency responders arrive.
Schulz and authorities hope more people will come to understand is that bystanders could save a life.
"Some people will always use drugs, but because you use drugs doesn't mean you have to die from it," Schulz said.
"Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to any parent."
With files from Bill Fortier