After a family tragedy, Elly Cummins is working to save lives

When her older brother passed away from an anxiety medicine overdose, Elly Cummins and a friend launched an awareness campaign for a law that could have saved her brother's life.

Elly Cummins

Elly Cummins knows that nothing can bring her brother back from an anxiety medicine overdose that took his life when he was 18 years old. But shortly after his death, she realized she could speak up and work to stop her brother’s story from being repeated.

Cummins created what became a state-wide campaign called Be Kind, Leave No One Behind, and for the past two years, she has been raising awareness of North Carolina’s Good Samaritan Law.

The little-known law, which protects bystanders who call 911 to report drug- or alcohol-caused medical emergencies from being prosecuted, could have saved Cummins’ brother’s life — and could save thousands more.

“I might as well try to prevent it from happening to another family and to another future,” Cummins said.

Now an incoming first-year student at Carolina, Cummins plans to learn how she can turn her advocacy into an impactful career.

“I really want my career to somehow involve doing this,” she said. “I definitely want to continue doing this as long as I can.”

A silver lining

Cummins has always stood up for what she believed, but she never had any interest in discussing drug addiction. That changed when her older brother, Boone, overdosed on Xanax.

Boone was at Sugar Lake in Pittsboro with friends in July 2017. When he overdosed, nobody called for help out of fear of getting in trouble with the police or their parents, Cummins said. Boone’s body was recovered from the lake days later.

The Good Samaritan Law could have been Boone’s lifeline. But nobody knew about the law. Even some of the police officers, Cummins said, didn’t know about the law.

Cummins wanted to change that.

About a month after Boone’s death, Cummins teamed up with Bridgette O’Donnell — whose brother, Sean, died six weeks earlier at Sugar Lake — to launch the Be Kind, Leave No One Behind campaign. Through the initiative, the two teenagers are working to make the Good Samaritan Law better known.

“We don’t want this to happen to more people,” Cummins said. “In both instances, if they had known about the Good Samaritan Law, [Boone and Sean] would both still be here.”

Cummins and O’Donnell have traveled throughout North Carolina to speak with communities that are struggling with drug abuse issues, worked with legislators to strengthen the law, recorded public service announcements and visited high schools, fraternities and sororities to discuss the Good Samaritan Law.

“Now that this has happened and I have this perspective, I feel like it’s important to share with people who don’t know what it’s like and are looking at [the issues] based on the numbers, not the people,” Cummins said.

Since the campaign began, Cummins has seen awareness of the Good Samaritan Law increase drastically. Several people have approached Cummins to say they’ve since used the law to save a life.

“It’s definitely been the silver lining through all of this, making changes that might actually help someone else,” she said.

Part of the community

Right now, Cummins wants to build on her experience with the awareness campaign by pursuing a career dedicated to helping more people.

She’s not quite sure what that career will look like, but she hopes she’ll discover it at Carolina.

Cummins plans to major in communications and minor in speaking and hearing sciences. She also has plans to study art, women and gender studies, Spanish and anthropology. The opportunity to expand her interests in the College of Arts & Sciences is a primary reason she’ll be heading to Chapel Hill this fall.

“The liberal arts side of Carolina is really what draws me the most,” she said. “I want to know more about what I’m passionate about and how I can turn that into a career.”