If your friend were hit by a car while they had the right of way in a crosswalk, you most likely wouldn’t hesitate at all about calling 911 – you’d know that you needed to get them medical attention as quickly as possible. But what would you do if your friend overdosed on an illegal drug? Sadly, many people hesitate or try to provide home care in these situations because they are afraid of getting in trouble with the law, especially if they were in possession of an illegal drug (or if it might look like they were to the police). All too often, this leads to the death of people who may have lived if they’d received proper medical attention in time.
According to the Center for Disease Control, fatal drug overdoses have been on the rise for the past 2 decades, and there were 38,329 drug overdose deaths in 2010 alone. Some of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs, but others were caused by illegal substances or the abuse of a prescription drug that the individual did not actually have a prescription for, and in these latter cases friends and family may have been more hesitant about seeking medical attention.
Although it’s hard to find good news in overdose statistics, there is one positive recent change: many states have become aware of the problem and have implemented drug immunity, or Good Samaritan laws, to protect the people seeking medical attention for someone who has overdosed.
Good Samaritan Laws Are a Start – But Not the End
New Mexico was the first state to implement a Good Samaritan law in 2007, and since then, thirteen other states, including Colorado have followed suit. Wisconsin may soon become the fifteenth state with this kind of drug liability law: as of January 2014, their government is reviewing a bill that would give people immunity for the criminal prosecution of drug possession if they call 911 to report an overdose.
Many of these states have implemented Good Samaritan laws in part to combat overdoses from heroin and other opioids. Heroin use has been markedly on the increase in the past decade, crossing socioeconomic, geographic, and racial lines. Some experts suggest that this increase may be in part a result of the increased abuse of painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin, which are considered gateway drugs to heroin.
To combat overdoses from heroin and other drugs, we need to get to the root of the problem and stop people from using these drugs in the first place. However, this isn’t something that can happen overnight, and in the meantime, drug immunity laws are an important step in preventing overdose deaths. Hopefully Colorado and the other states that have already adopted such laws can set an example for the rest of the country and encourage similar legislature.
Of course, we can’t just sit back and call it good after implementing Good Samaritan laws. States need to make an effort to emphasize drug education in schools – and also to make sure that people in the community are familiar with drug immunity laws. After all, these laws won’t do any good if the average person isn’t aware of them. People need to know that if they see that a friend or family member has overdosed, their first thought should be to call 911, not to fear the legal repercussions.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.