Back 

Blog

THE NCSL BLOG

11

Recent celebrity drug overdose deaths—most notably Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman—shine a spotlight on states' efforts to combat overdose death by passing so-called "Good Samaritan" laws.

With drug overdoses in the United States tripling since 1990—primarily due to increasing rates of abuse and misuse of prescription opioid painkillers—states have enacted laws providing levels of immunity for persons who call 911 or seek other help for themselves or others.

A bill introduced in Maryland this week would offer limited immunity for nonviolent drug possession if the person contacts law enforcement to report an overdose. Utah's House recently granted unanimous approval to a similar bill.

Drug overdoses are a major cause of preventable death in the United States. Increasingly, this includes prescription opioids, along with illegal opiate drugs like heroin. (Opioids are synthetic substances that mimic the narcotic effect of opium, from which heroin is derived.)

Between 1999 and 2010, deaths caused by prescription painkillers outpaced deaths from illicit drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Deaths caused by opioids are often preventable because it can take hours for an overdose to become lethal, time during which resuscitation is possible if medical attention is sought.

Often, however, medical assistance is not sought by those in need or their companions for fear of being arrested for use, possession or other drug-related crimes. In recent years, states have enacted overdose immunity laws intended to reduce the number of overdose-related deaths by encouraging people to seek help. 

So-called “Good Samaritan” laws regarding drug overdoses, fall into two primary categories. The first encourages calling 911 to seek medical assistance for yourself or someone experiencing an overdose by providing criminal immunity for both the person in need and the person who sought help. The second provides varying levels of criminal or civil immunity for those involved with the prescription, possession, or emergency administration of the opioid antidote naloxone to reverse the effects of the overdose.

The immunity provided by 911 laws is generally limited to low-level drug crimes, and does not provide protection from more serious offenses such as manufacturing, trafficking or distribution of controlled substances. The immunity provided by prescription or administration laws is generally limited to immunity from criminal offenses related to the specific substance naloxone.

Posted in: Public Policy
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |

Subscribe to the NCSL Blog

Click on the RSS feed at left to add the NCSL Blog to your favorite RSS reader. 

Blog Archives | By Category

About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

NAVIGATE

Share this: 
We are the nation's most respected bipartisan organization providing states support, ideas, connections and a strong voice on Capitol Hill.

NCSL Member Toolbox

Denver

7700 East First Place
Denver, CO 80230
Tel: 303-364-7700 | Fax: 303-364-7800

Washington

444 North Capitol Street, N.W., Suite 515
Washington, D.C. 20001
Tel: 202-624-5400 | Fax: 202-737-1069

Copyright 2014 by National Conference of State Legislatures