Often, people are afraid to call 911 when a friend is overdosing for fear of charges for drug use or possession themselves.
Because of this, in 2015 Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a “Good Samaritan” overdose prevention statute into law.
This statute states that any person who seeks out medical attention for a person who has overdosed can avoid criminal liability.
The purpose of the law is to help prevent overdose deaths by protecting the people who call for help.
In this article, we’ll give a brief overview of this “Good Samaritan” law.
However, as always, an article is never a substitute for sound legal advice from an attorney who can look over your entire case.
The “Good Samaritan” Law
Virginia has had Good Samaritan laws in place for many years, to varying levels of effectiveness.
The legislature enacted these laws to protect citizens from liability in cases where they help people in medical distress.
For example, if you pull someone out of a burning car the law protects you if something goes wrong (within reason).
Specifically, the Code states that if a person helps someone “in good faith…without compensation,” they aren’t liable for damages.
However, until 2015 Virginia lacked a law which offered similar protections to witnesses of a drug overdose.
For that reason, a large number of people were dying from overdoses every year, even if people were otherwise available to call for help.
Several groups have pushed for Good Samaritan laws in the past, to varying levels of success. However, the Virginia legislature generally hesitated to pass such statutes.
Their concern was that drug dealers, or habitual offenders, could abuse such a law in order to stay out of jail.
This all changed in 2014, when the bill re-entered the legislature with a few new requirements. These requirements help protect reporters, while simultaneously preventing loophole abuse.
Because of these new requirements, the Good Samaritan law was passed in March of 2015.
Requirements for “Good Samaritan” Protection
Under the new requirements, if someone calls for medical attention in the case of an overdose, and wants protection from prosecution, they’ll have to meet specific requirements.
As a quick rundown of these requirements, the reporter must:
- Report the overdose directly to a 911 dispatcher, firefighter, EMT or police officer.
- Remain at the scene with the person overdosing until emergency personnel arrive.
- Identify themselves to the authorities.
- Cooperate with any investigation “reasonably related” to the overdose.
As you can see, the requirements are pretty specific, and are custom-tailored towards making sure the overdosed individual receives medical attention.
However, at the same time they don’t necessarily give a free pass to everyone involved.
For example, while the law protects the person who calls for help, it doesn’t protect the overdosed person from drug use and/or possession charges.
Similarly, the Good Samaritan law doesn’t protect the dealer or distributor who gave the overdosed individual the drugs.
In cases such as these, it’s up to the officers who respond to decide on whether or not to pursue an arrest.
If they respond to a call and find large amounts of drugs, they might still make an arrest on distribution charges.
What Does the Law Protect Against?
On the other hand, there are several charges that the law specifically protects people who call for emergency services from.
As long as you fulfill all of the requirements above, you can generally avoid charges for:
- Possession of a controlled substance.
- Possession of marijuana.
- Public intoxication.
- Possession of drug paraphernalia.
- Unlawful purchase, possession or consumption of alcohol.
Does Virginia’s “Good Samaritan” Law Actually Work?
In a word, yes. Drug users are far more willing to intervene on a friend’s behalf if they know they won’t be punished themselves.
In fact, the state of Washington recently evaluated their Good Samaritan overdose laws to answer this very question.
They discovered that drug users were less afraid of penalties as a result of the law change, and as a result, were 88% more likely to report an overdose to authorities.
While Virginia has yet to publish a similar study, many officers note similar findings. The new laws merely codify this tendency.
In this way, the Virginia overdose laws provide extra assurance for individuals hesitant to call for help after witnessing an overdose.
In 2015, Virginia passed a new “Good Samaritan” law protecting drug users from arrest if they call for emergency medical attention for an overdosing friend.
The purpose of this law is to prevent people from dying of an overdose simply because bystanders are afraid to call for help.
For protection under the law, the caller must follow some specific requirements.
These requirements include identifying themselves, staying with the overdose victim, and cooperating with police.
The person overdosing may not have protection under the law, but they will get much-needed access to medical treatment.
In any event, remember that any drug-related charge is a serious matter in Virginia with very serious consequences.
Even with rules like the “Good Samaritan” law on the books, there are many ways to end up with a drug-related charge.
In these moments, it’s critical that you hire an experienced attorney to defend you in court.