In Canada, people who use drugs are dying in record numbers. Between January 2016 and September 2019, more than 14,700 people died of apparent opioid overdoses in this country. In Ontario alone, more than 1450 people died from opioid-related causes in 2018. The overwhelming majority of these overdoses and deaths involve fentanyl or its analogues, a potent drug that is now present in many street drugs. Never before have we experienced an overdose crisis of this magnitude, which is only exacerbated by the criminalization of personal drug possession.
In May 2017, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act (“the Good Samaritan law”) was passed as a partial response to this ongoing crisis. The law amended the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to give immunity from prosecution for the offence of simple possession of a controlled substance to anyone who calls 911 to report an overdose as well as to anyone who is on the scene when emergency services arrive.
In 2019, with the support of a research grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (HIV Legal Network) embarked upon a research study in Ontario to evaluate familiarity with the Good Samaritan law, and what people who have experience with drug use believe to be true about this law. In the midst of the ongoing overdose crisis in Ontario and across Canada, it is critical to understand people’s awareness of this law, how (or whether) they interact with it, and how they experience its real-world impacts.