Tennessee Law Declares Narcan Recipients 'Under the Influence' for 24 Hours

The Ben Kredich Act, named for a young man killed by an allegedly impaired motorist, overcorrects in response to a tragic incident.


On July 1, new laws will go into effect in a number of U.S. states. One Tennessee law would make suspicion of opioid impairment sufficient to establish evidence of driving under the influence.

In August 2023, Ben Kredich was struck and killed when a vehicle swerved off the road. The driver, Shannon Walker, had apparently passed out behind the wheel while under the influence of opioids; in April, a grand jury indicted Walker on charges including vehicular homicide, driving under the influence, and possession of controlled substances.

Earlier the same day, Walker had been found unresponsive in his vehicle. Responding paramedics administered Narcan, the drug that can reverse opiate overdoses, and took Walker to the hospital; he was discharged about 90 minutes after officers first found him. The hospital later issued a statement claiming Walker "left hospital premises as a passenger in a vehicle, not as a driver." Kredich was struck and killed less than an hour after Walker left the hospital.

In May, Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, signed the Ben Kredich Act into law. "For the purpose of proving a person violated state law relative to driving under the influence of an intoxicant," the bill states, "evidence that the person was suspected to be impaired…and was administered within 24 hours prior to the alleged violation, an opioid antagonist for an opioid-related overdose, creates a presumption that the defendant's ability to drive was sufficiently impaired by the substance that caused the opioid-related overdose to constitute a violation of state law."

In other words, if a person suspected of an opioid overdose is administered Narcan, then for the next 24 hours, there will now be a legal presumption that they are too impaired to drive. But is that good science?

"I think that the 24-hour limit is arbitrary," says Jeffrey Singer, a practicing physician and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. "It depends a great deal on the patient's metabolism, kidney function, what other medications are in their system, and tolerance level. For example, many chronic pain patients who are maintained on fairly high doses of opioids are lucid, fully functioning, and able to work. Narcan can wear off in 30 to 90 minutes, and the half-life of oxycodone is roughly 3 hours. So, it is perfectly conceivable that a patient administered Narcan can be fully competent and no longer impaired in less than 24 hours."

"This one-size-fits-all approach is not evidence-based and puts many lucid acute and chronic pain patients or patients at risk," Singer tells Reason.

Kredich's death is tragic, and Walker may indeed deserve prison time. But passing a law to address a previous tragedy is unfortunately a common occurrence.

"Bills named after sympathetic victims are the worst form of knee-jerk lawmaking," attorney Ted Frank wrote in 2016. "A crime or event that apparently warrants a new law is by definition a rare occasion, often a high-profile tragedy where multiple things have gone wrong. Existing laws already make violent acts criminal, so the new law typically attempts to close some perceived loophole. But it almost always is an overcorrection that creates more problems than it solves."