ATTLEBORO - A North Attleboro drug case was dismissed Tuesday in Attleboro District Court after the man's lawyer cited the state's new 911 Good Samaritan Law establishing legal protection for someone like his client, who acted to prevent a fatal drug overdose.
Heroin and prescription drug possession charges were dismissed by Judge Daniel O'Shea against Brock B. Lyons, 22, of Attleboro, because Lyons and a passenger in his car called 911 and rendered cardiopulmonary resuscitation to another passenger who was suffering a heroin overdose in November.
North Attleboro lawyer Elliot Brais successfully argued for the dismissal in the first such case in Attleboro District Court under the state's 911 Good Samaritan Law.
Brais and other court officials did not know how many such cases there have been in the state.
The law was signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in July 2012 and was first proposed in 2009 by state Rep. William C. Galvin, D-Canton, after the overdose death of 19-year-old Joshua Knochin of Canton.
Knochin was with friends who feared arrest if they called for help after he was stricken, according to a published report.
"The statute was designed to prompt people to call for medical attention if there is an overdose," Brais said.
The law, Brais said, was intended to help save lives by allowing people to report suspected overdoses in good faith to a medical professional or law enforcement official without fear of being prosecuted.
In Lyons' case, "it's exactly what the statute was designed to do," Brais said.
Lyons was charged with five counts of possession of heroin and prescription pills on Nov. 23, 2012, after he and another man called 911 from Lyons' car at Broadway and Fletcher Street in North Attleboro.
They told fire officials another passenger in the car was suffering from a heroin overdose and was unresponsive before they starting performing CPR, Brais said.
When firefighters arrived, they administered a drug to the victim to counter the effects of heroin and revived the man, according to a police report.
Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Derek Coyne opposed the dismissal, arguing that whether Lyons acted in "good faith" was up to interpretation.
He noted that the police dispatcher overheard someone yell "get rid of the (expletive)" during the call and that police found a bag containing syringes, a substance believed to be heroin and other paraphernalia about 10 to 15 feet from the car.
Lyons also told police he did not know what happened to the victim. He denied taking heroin and told police he had been clean for three days, according to the police report.
Coyne also argued that Lyons was believed to be the drug supplier for the victim, but said he was not charged with drug distribution.
The Good Samaritan Law, both sides said, only applies to those charged with drug possession and not trafficking or distribution charges.
Lyons' legal troubles are not over, however.
He is still being held in jail without bail as a fugitive from Florida. He has a 3-year prison term hanging over his head for breaking and entering, and Florida authorities are expected to take him back to that state, Brais said.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the U.S. Conference of Mayors were strong proponents of the 911 Good Samaritan Law which has been enacted in 11 other states, including Rhode Island, and in Washington, D.C.
Proponents of the law cited the escalating death toll from painkillers and other opiates, such as heroin from 1990 to 2008. From 2002 to 2008, some 3,859 people died in the state, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
In 2006, an average of 12 people in the state died each week of opioid-related overdoses, according to the department.
Most of the deaths could have been prevented if 911 was called quickly enough, according to the law's proponents. Immediately calling 911, they say, can help prevent permanent damage to the victim's brain or body caused by lack of oxygen during an overdose.