Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. In fact, the number of overdoses per year has grown so exponentially over the past decade that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has labelled it an epidemic. In 2010, more than 38,000 people in U.S. died as the result of drug overdose, and 60% of them were caused by prescription medications. Just five years later in 2015, more than 52,000 Americans died by overdose, the vast majority of which were caused by opioids. What makes this especially heartbreaking is that overdose deaths are preventable. So, why are the rates for overdose deaths at an all-time high?
One theory is that bystanders may not call for help during an overdose out of fear for themselves or for the victim. But what is there to be afraid of? Well, calling 911 and receiving medical assistance would require admitting to the possession and consumption of the drugs that caused the overdose. Depending on whether or not the drugs are illegal, this could potentially result in arrests for drug-related crimes. This fear may be sound among illicit drug users, but at the same time, it is not worth a life.
In response to this and the growing number of overdose deaths in America, 32 states have passed special protective immunities for overdose bystanders that have expanded their pre-existing Good Samaritan laws.
What Are Good Samaritan Laws?
Good Samaritan laws vary from state to state, but overall, they are built to protect people who act in the best interest of someone else, even if doing so requires doing something within a grey area of the law. For example, if you see a dog trapped in a car with no air and you break a window to save it, your state’s Good Samaritan laws would protect you from being prosecuted for property damage (i.e. breaking the window).
In terms of drug use, Good Samaritan laws offer protection for the person who overdosed, the person who called 911, or both. Of course, this depends on the state you live in, and Florida is one of the 32 states that has Good Samaritan laws set in place for the protection of addicts in the event of an overdose.
How Do Good Samaritan Laws Work?
With regard to the protection of drug overdose witnesses, Good Samaritan laws can be divided into two distinct categories, both of which have the same ultimate goal: to reduce the rates of overdose deaths.
The first kind of Good Samaritan overdose immunity law provides criminal immunity for the both the person who overdosed and the person who called 911. This essentially means that if you are guilty of a drug-related crime at the time the 911 call is made, you cannot be arrested when help arrives because you are protected by your state’s Good Samaritan overdose law.
The second kind of Good Samaritan overdose immunity law revolves around the possession and use of drug called naloxone during an overdose. Naloxone is a narcotic that is often administered during an emergency medical situation, like an overdose. Usually, this drug is used as an opioid antidote, but it can be used in other ways as well. A prescription is needed for naloxone, so when it is used on an overdose victim before the ambulance arrives, Good Samaritan laws protect:
- the overdose victim
- the person who has the naloxone prescription
- the person who was initially in possession of the naloxone
- the person who administered naloxone to the overdose victim
These laws are the best way to encourage victims and witnesses to call 911 in the event of an overdose. They provide immunity for those guilty of minor drug crimes like possession, ownership of drug paraphernalia, or even being under the influence at the time of the 911 call or ambulance arrival. Good Samaritan laws, however, are not a get-out-of-jail-free card for those responsible for more serious offenses.
What Kinds of Drug Crimes are Not Protected by Good Samaritan Immunity?
Good Samaritan laws only really protect people from prosecution for misdemeanor drug crimes like the ones mentioned above. However, the immunity granted through these laws will not protect criminals who are found guilty of illegally manufacturing, trafficking, distributing, selling or administering controlled substances. The only exception to this is in rare situations where a controlled substance that was illegally obtained and administered is used to save the overdose victim’s life. Even then, the protection granted by Good Samaritan laws in cases like this would only be limited to immunity from charges of illicit naloxone use, specifically. Otherwise, drug crimes beyond that of possession will be prosecuted regardless of the state or situation.
Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education (NOPE)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that roughly 105 people die from a drug overdose every day. Unfortunately, this is how Karen Perry, the founder and executive director of Florida’s Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education (NOPE) program, lost her 21-year-old son in 2003.
Nearly ten years later, Perry and the NOPE program worked hard to help pass Florida’s 911 Good Samaritan Law, which has been in effect since October 2012. Like so many people who support the Good Samaritan immunity laws, Perry believes that educating the masses about substance abuse and overdose is a first step to lowering overdose death rates. She has been quoted as saying:
“We’re trying to get [children and young adults] to speak up if they know someone who is abusing drugs or alcohol. Or, if they see someone with the signs of an overdose, they’re willing to call 911 without fear of getting into trouble. We know that across the country, it’s the same thing. People are afraid to pick up the phone… they’re afraid to get into trouble.”
With Good Samaritans laws to protect those who are only guilty of misdemeanors involving drugs, this will, with time, become less of an issue.
TTC Cares Encourages You to Be a Good Samaritan— It’ll Save Lives
Most people rarely think twice about calling 911 in the midst of a medical emergency, but those involved in a drug overdose might feel differently. The best thing we can do to reduce the number of deaths related to overdose is to educate others about the Good Samaritan overdose protection laws. As Florida residents, we are protected by these laws. We also encourage everyone to work together to fight not only addiction, but also the stigmas surrounding it. At TTC Care, we welcome anyone who is struggling with addiction to stay, receive treatment, get sober, and prepare for a new life without the fear of overdose. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction or has already overdosed in the past, call us at (844) 201-3136. All calls are confidential.