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'911 Good Samaritan' Advocate Down, Not Out

Blackwood resident Patty DiRenzo continues to fight for passage of a law she feels would have saved her son's life.

Blackwood resident Patty DiRenzo was devastated when she learned on Oct. 5 that Gov. Chris Christie had vetoed the "911 Good Samaritan" bill.

"I didn't anticipate that at all. I honestly thought he was going to sign it, and it wasn't going to be an issue," she said. "When Roseanne (Scotti, director of New Jersey's Drug Policy Alliance) called me at work that Friday ... I just started crying. I was just so upset."

But DiRenzo and advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance have not given up their fight to see the "Good Samaritan" bill, which would offer protections to anyone who calls 911 in response to a drug overdose, passed here in New Jersey.

DiRenzo on Thursday sent a letter to Gloucester Township Council members asking that they approve a resolution recommending that the Legislature override Christie's veto of the bill.

DiRenzo's son, Salvatore Marchese, died in Camden in September 2010 of an accidental heroin overdose. He was just 26 years old. DiRenzo believes her son would still be alive today if the "911 Good Samaritan" law was on the books.

At a town hall meeting held in Mount Laurel on Oct. 11, Christie indicated he was not comfortable signing into law a bill he felt could provide immunity to drug dealers.

"What I'm not willing to do is to give people who commit harms on other people a free pass just because they picked up a telephone and called," Christie told the town hall audience.

(Editor's Note: See the attached YouTube video for Christie's full comments at the Mount Laurel town hall.)

The "Good Samaritan" bill went to Christie's desk after the Senate approved its version of the bill, 21-10, on Aug. 20. The Assembly had passed its bill in May.

On Friday, DiRenzo refuted Christie's reasoning for his veto.

"This is not about dealers," she said. "This not about drug distribution. Dealers don't get immunity. ... Users use together, not with dealers. I'm the last person who wants a dealer to get immunity."

Below is a copy of the letter DiRenzo sent by email to Gloucester Township Council members on Thursday:

Members of Council:

My name is Patty DiRenzo and I am a resident of Gloucester Township. I lost my son Salvatore Marchese to an accidental heroin overdose on September 23, 2010, he was found in Camden. Sal was not alone when he overdosed, but the person who was using with him did not call 911, most likely for fear of arrest and/or prosecution. My son was left alone to die without the help he needed and deserved. Since Sal's passing I have been advocating for passage of the 911 Good Samaritan Bill which Governor Christie recently "conditionally" vetoed. This Bill passed both houses earlier this year with significant bipartisan support. 
 
The leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey is no longer automobile accidents, but drug overdoses. The State Medical Examiner has reported that there were 1,000 drug deaths in New Jersey last year, compared with 884 in 2010. About 700 New Jerseyans fatally overdosed on illegal druges in 2009. The 911 Good Samaritan Bill is designed to encourage people to call 911 and seek emergency medical assistance in cases of overdose. Although most overdoses occur in the presence of others, fear of arrest and prosecution prevents many people from calling 911. As a result, medical assistance is summoned in only half of all overdose situations. The chance of surviving an overdose often depends on the speed with which the victim receives appropriate medical care. Our community, along with surrounding communities, are experiencing an extremely high number of accidental fatal overdoses. 

I write today to ask if the Gloucester Township Council will consider putting the attached Resolution on their Agenda for a vote. This Resolution would provide and give your support for our efforts in calling upon the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly to override the Governor’s veto and pass the Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act (S851/A578).

DiRenzo also attached a copy of the Drug Policy Alliance resolution to the email. (Editor's Note: See PDF to the right.)

Ten states—Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, Washington, Illinois, Colorado, California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Florida—have already enacted "Good Samaritan" laws.

Harry Hughes October 29, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Mr. and Mrs. DiRenzo, I'm very sorry for your loss. I'm not sure if you're aware of www.change.org. But there you can gain support by completing then sending out requests for signatures to help in your campaign. I agree this should not be about dealers or even users but about saving lives regardless. Some make bad decisions but it shouldn't be their last decision. I pray you win your fight!

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