Most Drug Abusers Ignorant of Good Samaritan Laws

Forty states have laws that give immunity from drug charges to people to call 911 about overdoses. The problem is that drug users aren’t aware of the laws.

Forty states and the District of Columbia have overdose-prevention Good Samaritan laws that trade 911 calls for immunity for low-level drug charges. The idea is to encourage people to call to save lives during an opioid epidemic. The laws vary, but they assure those who are overdosing and those who are with them that they need not worry about calling. Do the right thing. Save a life. Be a good Samaritan. The problem is that the people most likely to witness an overdose are least likely to know about the laws, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. “There’s generally poor knowledge of Good Samaritan 911 laws among people who use drugs,” said Daniel Raymond of the national Harm Reduction Coalition.

Nationally published studies show that young people who use prescription drugs for recreation are even less likely to know of the laws than are injection drug users. Most of the law have no funding attached, and few states have named an authority to educate drug users about the laws. The Ohio law was criticized by national harm-reduction policy groups in 2016 as a “bad Samaritan” law for its three-strikes rule, which says that if someone calls about an overdose a third time, he or she could face arrest and prosecution. The law also requires the overdose survivors and callers to get a referral to treatment and provide it to a prosecutor’s office. Often, counties don’t have a tracking system for those who get referrals or follow through with treatment. “We’re expecting someone who’s overdosed not only to call but then go and get treatment,” said Newtown, Oh., Police Chief Tom Synan. “I doubt there’s going to be a big number of people that are doing that.”