"Good Samaritan" Overdose Laws: Humane, Life-Saving, Opposed By Awful People


Newsweek reports on the not-moving-fast-enough movement to pass laws exempting those who call 911 or otherwise try to get people suffering drug overdoses to medical care from drug-law related prosecutions. Some excerpts:

As it now stands in most states, people who dial 911, drop a friend off at a hospital, or otherwise try to get care for someone in the midst of a drug overdose are subject to prosecution for use, possession, or distribution. No national figures exist for how often callers are arrested, but users are attuned to the stories that show up in the media with some regularity, says Meghan Ralston of the Drug Policy Alliance, pointing to a recent case in which an overdosing woman and a man who called an ambulance for her were both arrested. "That sends a chilling, disturbing message to all people who will one day witness an overdose," Ralston says. "It says, 'Don't call 911 because you will and the victim will be arrested.'"….

In an effort to encourage people to seek help instead of leaving friends to die, Washington state recently joined New Mexico in granting limited immunity from prosecution on possession charges to drug users summoning help for an overdose. California, New York, and Massachusetts are considering similar legislation. "These laws are designed to do no more than get that panicking person to the phone as quickly as possible and try to save a life," says Ralston, whose organization is working to get more Good Samaritan laws passed.


Not everyone supports these laws. "Nobody wants to appear 'soft on crime,'" Ralston says. For instance, Illinois considered a bill this year that would have prevented information obtained from a 911 call reporting an overdose from being used as a basis for drug charges, but it was defeated.

"You're granting immunity to drug dealers," said state Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a former narcotics and gang prosecutor who opposed the law as overly broad. "This won't be protecting the people it's meant to protect."

See Jacob Sullum's June 2003 Reason magazine feature on how one can in fact use heroin and live, and not even get "addicted." (No thanks to law enforcement that wants to continue arresting people for trying the quickest way to get medical care for possibly dying people.)