Drug Policy

"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.)

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  1. Typo alert: I think you mean “good Samaritan.”

  2. People that OD deserve to die, and their friends who are with them at the time deserve to watch it happen, or face the consequences for trying to save useless drug users.

    1. juanita?

    2. 2.0: Next thing ya know, every drug-kingpin fearing arrest, or seeing the SWAT team scrambling outside his mansion, will simply stick his roommate with an overdose, call 911, and walk every time.

  3. Love the way Rep. Dennis Reboletti conflates drug users and drug dealers.

    1. Truly a Billy Madison level quote.

      I guess Reboletti hasn’t seen Pulp Fiction.

    2. You mean there’s a difference?

  4. You’re granting immunity to drug dealers

    WTF? Only famous people OD at the dealer’s place. Nikki Sixx can shoot a Dreamsicle-sized speedball right there on the fuckin’ couch. You can’t.

    1. Nikki Sixx can shoot a Dreamsicle-sized speedball right there on the fuckin’ couch….die, and then have another one upon leaving the hospital and live to tell about it.

      That is so fucking rock and roll.

    2. River Phoenix can’t. But he was always a lightweight anyway.

  5. “”said state Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a former narcotics and gang prosecutor “”

    Elect a former prosecutor and what do you think you’re going to get?

    People need to learn to stop electing them.

    1. People need to learn

      Ha, as if!

  6. I think there was another sotry like this last week that reminded me of how the government used to put poison into rubbing alcohol back in the 30s to stop people from drinking it.

    I can’t remember how many people died from poisoning as a result, but it was something like 5,000.

    Similarly, some of our current retarded prohibitionist drug laws have the same effect – deliberately make drugs less safe to use and then blame people when they inevitably end up in the hospital.

    1. Oh yeah, here’s the story:

      And it make you wonder why it gets so litte attention, since it’s vastly worse than, say, Tuskeegee.

      1. And it make you wonder why it gets so litte attention…


      2. Racist!

  7. But more importantly – when the OD’ing drug user shows up at the ER and is rendered life-saving service, but then is unable to pay for it, will it be covered by Obamacare?

  8. Don’t call 911. Call Lou Reed.

    But when someone turns that blue
    Well, it’s a universal truth
    And you just know that bitch will never fuck again
    By the way, that’s really some bad shit
    That you came to our place with
    But you ought to be more careful around the little girls
    It’s either the best or it’s the worst
    And since I don’t have to choose
    I guess I won’t and I know this ain’t no way to treat a guest
    But why don’t you grab your old lady by the feet
    And just lay her out in the darkest street
    And by morning, she’s just another hit and run

    1. That right there is just a little darker than “Take a Walk on the Wild Side”, idnit?

  9. If I’m injured while trespassing and I call an ambulance, I’d expect the police would have some difficult questions. The same could be true if I were gambling, hunting without a permit, street racing, etc. Generally speaking, if you require police or medical assistance while in the midst of an illegal activity then you’re likely to get in trouble for breaking the law.

    I understand the argument that some drug use probably should not be illegal, but the proper approach is to change those laws. Not to carve out an exception for one type of illegal activity.

    1. I can’t disagree with the potential “difficult questions”, but what about The Man noted in the article: …a recent case in which an overdosing woman and a man who called an ambulance for her were both arrested…

      So – he was arrested for….? I don’t want to be hassled for calling the EMT’s for a friend, acquaintance or stranger in the midst of an overdose upon whom I happen. I’ve not done anything except try to help – the fact that we apparently need laws to shield people in that position is disturbing.

    2. No drug use should be illegal, Bryan. The only reason that a non-evil person could have for wanting some drug use to be illegal is a misguided intention to reduce harm. Without a good Samaritan law like this, harm is clearly increased (and to any reasonable person, criminalizing simple use or possession obviously increases harm quite a bit).

    3. If I trespassed, and then the owner shot me or the dogs bit me, and I surrendered – then I would hope the owner could call 911 without fear of having himself arrested – or the dogs shot.

      No, these laws are designed to make more drug users die, which the drug warriors think is a laudable goal, plus gets them more funding and immunities.

    4. I agree. If you want to lock people in a cage for posession of a plant, then you are already evil. Not being for exceptions doesn’t make you any more evil.

  10. People who work to defeat these life-saving laws are either (a)murderers or (b) morons.

    On the other hand, I suppose they could be both.

  11. Drugs being illegal, I can’t understand where people get enough to overdose on them.

  12. 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.

    No coincidence that Illinois is monumentally broke.

    “Illinois comptroller Daniel W. Hynes says his state owes $5 billion to schools, rehabilitation centers, child care, the state university ? and it’s getting worse every single day.”

    1. They are snorting it or eating a lot of it (3 or 4 tbsps) to get the “marijuana-like high” that the common spice can provide.

      A nutmeg trip be compared to a marijuana high shows the person making the comparison to be a complete fool.

      PCP was mellow compared to nutmeg.

      1. Trip report please.

      2. SF – I’d also heard that nutmeg was similar to pot, only with a wicked hangover.

    2. Finally, a use for nutmeg.

      1. Don’t do it – according to this source, nutmeg will give you a pleasant high, kind of like a couple hits of good pot. The next day, however, you’ll feel about the same as if you did 18 shots of Jagermiester.

        If you’re really knowledgable about chemistry, nutmeg oil can be made into something similar to MMDA, without the hangover issue. (I got this info from one of the Uncle Fester books I read when I was a teen. I do not have the knowledge, the courage, or the desire to attempt anything like that.)

        1. It’s not like any pot I’ve ever had. Sweaty, nauseous, confused… it was fairly unpleasant. And the next day is insanely bad. I freely admit it might just be me, but it was awful.

          The only thing worst than nutmeg was huffing Freon.

          1. Can I get an update on that experience? Pretty sure I won’t be trying that anytime soon but I’m not judgmental.


            1. Freon makes you feel really big, like your hands and feet are miles away. And it affects your voice, like helium… only it makes your voice really, really deep.

              Freon makes you feel and sound like a giant.

  13. do we want people who have OD’ed on heroin or cocaine to live? is that good public policy?

    1. How the hell are we supposed to throw them in jail and make their lives miserable if they’re dead? You are a shitty prohibitionist.

      1. Just a little chlorine for the gene pool?

  14. Everyone should be forced to help others. Suck it up, you selfish assholes.

    1. You’re right, “forced to help” = “not always permitted to use government authority to fuck with innocent strangers at their weakest moment.”

  15. Maybe we should grant immunity from prosecution for assault with a deadly weapon if the assailant brings the victim to the hospital, too.

    This goes in the “Reason expecting everyone else in the country to feel the same way about drug laws as they do” file.

    1. Actually, it goes in the “Tulpa is still a disingenuous asshole that can’t acknowledge the difference between harming oneself and harming another person” file.

  16. This article is tea-bagger garbage. Robin Hood’s true legacy was fighting against the Norman aristocrats to help the Saxon peasants. During the 1950s in Indiana, Robin Hood was banned reading in some school districts because of right-wing bigots who thought Robin Hood was promoting socialism. Not that there is anything wrong with socialism.

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