The United States continues to experience unprecedented rates of overdose mortality. Addressing the overdose epidemic has been challenging for policy makers given the lack of effectiveness of existing drug control policy measures. More recently, the implementation of harm reduction-based policies such as Good Samaritan Laws has led to increasing scholarly attention aimed at evaluating their effectiveness at reducing the likelihood of criminal justice-related sanctions for individuals following an overdose incident. The results of these studies, however, have been mixed.
This study utilizes data from a nationally representative survey of law enforcement agencies designed to provide national information on services, policies, practices, operations, and resources of law enforcement drug response around overdoses to assess whether state Good Samaritan Laws reduce the likelihood of overdose victims being cited or being jailed following an overdose incident.
In general, findings indicate that although most agencies reported that overdose victims were not incarcerated or cited following an overdose incident, that this did not vary by whether agencies were in a state that had a GSL arrest protection for possession of controlled substances.
GSLs are often written in complex and confusing language that officers and people who use drugs do not fully understand, which may deter their being used for their intended purpose. Although GSLs are well-intentioned, these findings highlight the need for training and education for law enforcement and people who use drugs around the scope of these laws.
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