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Police urge people to call 911 to report overdoses despite risk of arrest

SHELBYVILLE, Ind. -- Public safety and law enforcement officials are pleading with the public to call 911 immediately if they witness a drug overdose, even if it means facing possible jail time.

Shelbyville police responded to two serious drug overdoses in about twelve hours last Thursday. In one case, in the 500 of Willow Drive, police say a man who had overdosed on drugs had been unconscious for up to 15 minutes before 911 was called. They say one of the overdosing man’s friends eventually walked to another house where a family member called 911.

Police discovered that several people who had been in the house where the man overdosed had left the home. Police later returned with a search warrant and found needles, spoons with residue, a glass pipe with a burned substance inside, and other signs of illegal drug use.

Johnathon Carpenter, 32, and Kyle Fuller, 29, were both arrested on charges related to drug possession. Lacee McQuire, 32, and John Reid, 34, were each arrested on charges of visiting a common nuisance. The man who overdosed was later arrested on an outstanding warrant.

A second overdose case, about 12 hours later, resulted in the arrests of Andrew Fuquay, 28, and Kirsten Hood, 21. Police say Fuquay was unconscious and not breathing when they arrived in the first block of Ash Way. He was revived with Narcan at the scene. A search of the property uncovered trash bags full of drug paraphernalia on the porch. Police records did not clarify who called 911 in the case.

Shelbyville Police Lt. Michael Turner says officers often encounter situations where drug users don’t want to call 911 about an overdosing friend because of the risk of being arrested.

“It’s very concerning,” said Turner. “One of the things we’re trying to get across to the public is we need to work together as a team. And that means that sometimes you’ve got to make that tough call right away.”

Turner says he and his officers understand that an overdose situation is chaotic and frightening. But Turner is urging people not to let the fear of possible jail time stop them from saving a life.

“We understand that people are scared sometimes,” Turner said. “We understand they find themselves in a tough situation. But we ask that you rise above sometimes, you make that phone call.”

Indiana State Senator Jim Merritt says he will make another push next year to expand Indiana’s Lifeline Law to encourage more people to call 911 for overdoses.

Passed in 2012, the Lifeline Law provides immunity for the crimes of public intoxication, minor possession, minor consumption and minor transport to people who seek medical assistance for a person suffering from an alcohol-related health emergency. It was expanded in 2014 to include the reporting of sexual assault. It was expanded again last year to make it easier for people to obtain their own supply of naloxone, and provide immunity for a 911 caller who administers naloxone on an overdosing individual before emergency responders arrive.

Merritt has previously pushed to expand the law even further to provide immunity for anyone who calls 911 about an overdosing person and stays to cooperate with police.

“We want people to be safe, we want to save lives,” Merritt said. “And that’s the whole idea behind texting or calling 911.”

Discussions about expanding the law will likely have to balance the desire to save the lives of overdosing victims, and concerns about making it too easy for drug dealers to avoid arrest by making sure they are the person who calls 911.