By SAMHSA’S Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies
Overdose Good Samaritan laws are policies that provide legal protections for individuals who call for emergency assistance (such as 9-1-1) in the event of a drug overdose. This may include protection from arrest and/or prosecution for crimes related to drug possession, drug paraphernalia possession, and other crimes. These laws are designed to encourage people to summon emergency assistance if they experience or witness a drug overdose.
As of July 2017, 40 states and the District of Columbia have instituted Good Samaritan laws. Yet, lack of awareness and understanding of the protections these laws provide, as well as concerns about their limitations, may be limiting their effectiveness in encouraging overdose bystanders to call for help. These barriers may also prevent the criminal justice system from fully observing them.
Prevention practitioners can play an important role in maximizing awareness of these laws—which vary considerably across states—and educating relevant stakeholders on their strengths and limitations. This tool supports these efforts by providing an overview of this overdose prevention strategy, including the aims of Good Samaritan laws and types of protections they can offer. We also present some of the obstacles that prevent overdose bystanders and the criminal justice system from applying their state’s Good Samaritan laws, and steps prevention practitioners can take to raise awareness of these laws among various target populations.