Drug Overdose: Good Samaritan Law

My recent article “Death by Overdose” was in reference to actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who died of a heroin overdose. In that article, I stated that friends who may witness an overdose may be hesitant to call 911. Drug use is illegal, placing the friends in jeopardy of arrest if they call for police help. Not everyone in the drug culture is willing to accept that risk and might choose to look the other way.

I received additional information from a reader regarding Illinois’ 911 Overdose Good Samaritan Law. The aim of this law is to reduce the number of deaths by drug overdose. It states that associates of the overdose victim cannot be charged with possession for small amounts of illegal drugs when calling 911 or taking someone to an emergency room for an overdose. The immunity applies to any “good faith effort” to seek emergency medical help, whether that is calling 911, taking the overdose victim to an emergency room or running to a neighbor who is a doctor.

Under this law, possession of up to three grams or less of heroin or cocaine and less than one gram of methamphetamine would be immune from prosecution. Marijuana (cannabis) is not covered under this law. If you are in possession of cannabis, this law will not protect you from prosecution. All other drugs are covered under this law, but weight restrictions apply.

Only the caller and the overdosing person receive protection. The law does NOT provide immunity to other individuals at the scene. It does not provide immunity to people who sold or gave the drugs to the overdosing person.

As long as the caller sought medical attention for the overdosing person in good faith – meaning the 911 call was placed when the person was alive – the caller will still receive immunity from possession charges. However, if the caller is the person who gave or sold the victim the drugs that led to the overdose, the caller could be charged with drug-induced homicide if the person dies. In that case, the fact that the person tried to get medical help may be used by the judge as a condition for getting a shorter sentence.

In the case of an overdose to heroin or other opiates, the medication Naloxone, also known as Narcan, can block the effects of opiates on the brain and reverse overdoses. To avoid a fatal overdose, people who use heroin and other opiates, as well as their peers and loved ones, should be trained to administer Naloxone, an overdose reversal drug.

“Don’t run. Call 911.” For further information see http://www.stopoverdoseIL.org.

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