A "good Samaritan" law will take effect July 1 in Virginia, thanks in part to a student project in Virginia Tech’s counselor education program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently signed SB 892, a bill that provides a defense for individuals who take responsible measures to report an overdose, remain at the scene of the overdose until emergency services arrive, and identify themselves to the responding office.

Students in Gerard Lawson’s Orientation to Professional Counseling class led the charge for passage of this bill, which was brought to the General Assembly by Senator Chap Petersen of Fairfax, Virginia.

“This law provides legal protection for an individual who may be under the influence, so that they will call 911 to seek help for a friend who has overdosed,” explained Lawson, an associate professor whose School of Education students had the idea to protect “good Samaritans” who report a drug overdose to emergency services.

Following the signing, Petersen said that the next step is to get the word out to young people: “If a friend is in distress, you have a responsibility and now you have legal protections. Do the right thing. Make a call to save a life.”  

This project was just one of many ways that the counselor education program has made an impact. For example, interns work in school and clinical mental health settings across Virginia.

“This year our 21 interns from Falls Church and Roanoke each contributed at least 600 hours of unpaid counseling service to their communities,” Lawson said. “That by itself is a contribution of 12,600 hours of services to vulnerable students and individuals who may not otherwise be able to receive services.”

In addition, Lawson noted that first-year students provided more than 176 hours of pro bono counseling services in Roanoke to students at Virginia Western Community College. Between interns and practicum students, Lawson estimated a contribution “worth at least $255,000 has been made by these students to the communities in Northern Virginia, and the New River and Roanoke valleys.”

“The financial contribution is significant, but the real difference that our students make is in the lives of the people with whom they work,” Lawson said.

These master’s and doctoral students also have been recognized by others for their excellence while in the program. This year counseling students were selected for a $20,000 fellowship from the National Board for Certified Counselors, a fellowship from the Virginia Counselors Association, and All-Academic Team honors from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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