Posted: 7:53 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20, 2013

Ga. State student pushing for law that protects some drug users

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ATLANTA —

A Georgia State University law student is pushing for a law that would protect drug users who call to report an overdose and seek medical attention for that person.

Justin Leef told Channel 2's Tom Regan his best friend from childhood died after injecting heroin in the back of a car in 2011. He said 21-year-old Zack Elliot may have survived if those using drugs with him called for help or got him to a hospital.

"You have a very small window in which to call. In that moment, you are very fearful that something is going to happen to you. This bill would take away that worry that, 'I'm going to ruin their life because they're in possession of drugs, or I'm going to ruin my life,'" said Leef.

Leef's proposal has the support of a Gwinnett County couple who lost their son to a heroin overdose. Twenty-year-old Steven Cardiges, of Lawrenceville, died in August 2012 after overdosing in a car. Three of his friends told police they didn't drive him to a nearby hospital because they were afraid of getting arrested.

"My son is dead. He put a needle in his arm. It would have been no big deal for somebody to take him to the hospital. I still don't understand why they didn't do that in the first place. Could have just dropped him off," said parent Stan Cardiges.

The couple is promoting an online petition that urges the Georgia legislature and Gov. Nathan Deal to support a proposed legislation that has passed in other states and is referred to as the Good Samaritan 911 Bill. It would protect those seeking medical assistance during a drug overdose from criminal prosecution for drug possession. More than a dozen states, including North Carolina, have enacted the bill.

"If the 9-1-1 law existed in this state at the time, his death could have been prevented. His regrettable choice did not have to lead to death. And for those who make regrettable choices in the future, it doesn't have to lead to death," said mother Robin Cardiges.

Doctors said most all opiate-related overdoses can be reversed if an antidote called Naloxone can be administered in time. A survey reported on the petition website Change.org said 88 percent of drug users would call to report an overdose if they would not be arrested for drug possession.

Republican state Sen. Renee Unterman, of Buford, is working on legislation that would help provide partial or full immunity to those who witness an overdose and call for help.

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