We all generally understand the Good Samaritan as a person who helps another in difficulty or distress. As the opioid epidemic becomes a reality for so many families, more and more people suffering from substance use disorder are in need of a Good Samaritan. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2015, there were 52,404 men and women who died from drug overdose in the United States—1,747 of those in Massachusetts. We need as many people intervening as possible. Anyone can be a Good Samaritan.
An overdose does not typically happen as suddenly as you might think. Most overdose deaths happen one to three hours after a person has injested or injected a drug or drugs. This can be good news, because it means that it can be possible to help someone who overdoses. A person who has overdosed is much more likely to survive or have less severe consequences from an overdose if they receive medical assistance as quickly as possible. This means it is best to call 911 as soon as signs of overdose are confirmed. Unfortunately, many people do not want to call for help out of fear of getting in trouble themselves. According to an article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the most common reason people cite for not calling 911 is fear of police involvement.
Passed in 2007, the Massachusetts Good Samaritan Law encourages someone who witnesses an overdose to seek help from professionals by providing the caller, and the person who overdosed, protection from arrest and prosecution for drug possession. The goal is to protect people so they are not afraid to involve emergency services as soon as possible.
Good Samaritan laws vary from state to state. In MA, it does not protect people from arrest for other offenses, such as selling or trafficking drugs, or from existing warrants. The law does protect the caller and overdose victim from arrest and/or prosecution for simple drug possession, possession of paraphernalia, and/or being under the influence. To find out more information about the law in MA and other ways you can help prevent overdose, visit the MA Bureau of Substance Addiction Services website here. To find out about this law in other states, click here.
Immediate medical help is critical when someone is experiencing an overdose. Please do not let fear of police involvement prevent you from calling 911. Call our Helpline staff at 800.327.5050 with any questions and/or to help you find treatment in your community.