Pubdate: Sun, 10 Sep 2000
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2000 The Washington Post Company
Contact:  1150 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20071
Author: Benjamin Linas


I was relieved to read that Scott Sheldon, who chose not to call 911 when 
trying to help a heroin overdose victim, was recently acquitted of all 
charges brought by the Howard County district attorney's office [Metro, 
Sept. 2]. Now that Mr. Sheldon can resume his life, it is time to take a 
closer look at what his case reveals about America's public policy toward 

Approximately two-thirds of injection drug users report that they have 
witnessed a friend's overdose. Tragically, 75 percent also report that the 
last time that they witnessed an overdose they did not call 911 for fear of 
being arrested. Apparently in Howard County, users now also face 
prosecution if they do not call 911.

What is the purpose of our public policy? Is it to punish addicts? Or are 
we seeking to prevent the tragic deaths of young people? If we want to 
minimize overdose fatalities, shouldn't we make it safe for people to call 
paramedics in an effort to save a life? Certainly, if we plan to prosecute 
individuals who do not seek help, we are obligated to guarantee that they 
will not be arrested when fulfilling their civic duty.

Benjamin Linas, Research Associate, The Lindesmith Center, Drug Policy 
Foundation, New York
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