Do the right thing
On Aug. 11, 2008, Zieska’s husband, Eric Briske, also of Simi Valley, died from a heroin overdose in his hometown. He was just 24 years old.
“It was his second time trying heroin and the two people he was with did not call 911,” said Zieska, 30.
“They were scared and they were under the influence,” Zieska said when asked why the two people didn’t call for emergency aid. “I remember the girl (telling me) she was afraid he wouldn’t be allowed to see his kids. . . . She was afraid he would go to jail.”
But not calling made one of those fears come true. Zieska’s children, John Hannon-Briske, 9, and Sarah Briske, 5, are growing up without a father.
“(Sarah) asks me questions all the time, every night,” she said. “’Are we going to go on a cloud and see daddy tonight? Or is he going to come see us?’”
Zieska was one of more than 100 people who attended an antidrug symposium called “A Meeting of the Minds” on Tuesday at the Simi Valley Town Center.
Hosted by Action Family Counseling, a drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation program, the seminar focused on what is being called the Good Samaritan law.
Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last September, Assembly Bill 472 went into effect Jan. 1 and allows those who witness a drug-related overdose to call 911 without fear of arrest for minor drug violations.
Though Zieska wishes the law had been around in 2008, knowing it can help prevent others from enduring the pain she has suffered has lifted her spirits.
“When I heard about this new law, it’s a blessing for so many other families.”
California is the 10th state in the country to pass a Good Samaritan law to help reduce the number of drug overdose fatalities, which, like in many other states, is the No. 1 cause of accidental injury-related death, surpassing even motor vehicles.
While people often overdose in the presence of others, many bystanders will delay seeking emergency help or not call at all. This hesitation or failure to act is usually due to fear that they will be arrested for being under the influence or in possession of drugs.
Jesse Finkbeiner, Action’s intensive outpatient program director for Simi Valley, knows that story all too well. The Simi native began his drug addiction when he was 13 years old. Flash forward about 15 years to September 2001 and his best friend, Ryan, also an addict, dies of a heroin overdose. Ryan’s girlfriend saw him “nod off” and did nothing.
“Not a phone call was made. She left the residence. . . . Six hours later his dad came home to find him on the floor with foam coming out of his mouth and blood coming out of his nose and that he was dead,” Finkbeiner said.
“When we asked his girlfriend . . . why she chose to leave, she said, ‘I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to get in trouble, I didn’t want to get him in trouble.’”
The new law’s aim is to prevent that kind of tragedy.
AB 472 provides limited protections against low-level drug violations to encourage those at the scene of an overdose to be “good Samaritans” and call 911.
Those who report an overdose but are under the influence or in possession of small amounts of controlled substances or drug paraphernalia won’t be cited.
“If you in good faith are calling to help someone or bring someone into medical attention because they are overdosing, you aren’t going to get arrested,” Simi Valley Police Sgt. Dwight Thompson said during the Jan. 15 meeting.
People found to be furnishing or selling drugs to others, however, would still be subject to arrest.
“If you’re a drug dealer and you’ve got a whole bunch of stuff and you’re supplying people, you’re exempt from this,” the sergeant said, adding that the law also doesn’t give the okay to drive to the ER intoxicated. “Don’t get in your car and drive and chance it. . . . Let us come to you and let us help you guys at the scene.”
Ventura County Firefighter Pat Kelley, who has worked in Simi for the last eight of his 13 years with the department, agreed. He said his job as a first responder is not to judge but to help.
“Please pick up the phone, call 911. You don’t have to give your name, you don’t have to stay there, just do it,” he said, adding that the value of human life should outweigh any fear. “It really disappoints me to see how many people would disregard the life of a friend because they are worried about their criminal history.”
Don’t run, call 911
Kelley also stressed that his ability to save a life is diminished the longer people wait to do the right thing.
“Eight minutes without oxygen to the brain and you’re a carrot. . . . It’s time-critical,” he said.
“By the time we get to that person, even if we bring them back, they’re not back,” Kelley said. “That person is never going to be the same. They are never going to open their eyes and say ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ or anything.”
Kurt Fredrickson, volunteer chaplain with Simi PD for almost 20 years, said that he sometimes has to be that “second responder” whose heartbreaking job it is to tell a family their loved one has died.
“The worst thing about death notifications is you just watch the life drain out of those people who love their (family member),” said Fredrickson, who wasn’t able to hold back his tears at the memories.
“I want you to keep me unemployed,” he told the crowd. “I don’t want to do the job.” W hile the complex battle to end substance abuse wages on, when it comes to witnessing an overdose, the message of local anti-drug advocates—and especially those who have lost a loved one to addiction— is simple.
“Save a life and call 911,” Zieska said. “Even if you don’t know the person. . . . There’s family that love these people and it’s hard enough to watch that family member go down a path where they’re addicts, but it’s even harder to know that they didn’t make it through it because somebody didn’t call 911.”