Good Samaritan drug overdose laws

Good Samaritan drug overdose laws provide immunity from arrest, charge, or prosecution for drug possession or paraphernalia when individuals who are experiencing or witnessing an overdose summon emergency services (Davis 2013*, NPHL 2016, NCSL-Overdose). Good Samaritan laws vary by state; some states also provide expansive protection from violations of probation, parole, and restraining order and other protection from arrest on outstanding minor warrants (Davis 2013*, NPHL 2016). Good Samaritan drug overdose laws often accompany efforts to expand layperson’s ability to administer naloxone in opioid overdose situations (NCSL-Overdose).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced overdose deaths

Evidence of Effectiveness

Good Samaritan drug overdose laws are a suggested strategy to reduce drug overdose death, especially opioid overdose deaths (US Mayors-Overdose 2014, NCSL-Overdose, Davis 2013*, NPHL 2016). Available evidence suggests that fear of arrest is a common barrier to calling 911 during an overdose (Follett 2012, Banta-Green 2013); fear of police involvement can lead bystanders to delay or forgo calling 911, increasing risk of overdose death (US Mayors-Overdose 2014). A Washington-based survey suggests that as drug users learn about Good Samaritan laws, they become more likely to call 911 during an overdose (Banta-Green 2011), and law enforcement officers in states that have adopted Good Samaritan laws report that these laws have improved citizens’ image of law enforcement (Davis 2014c*). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm whether and to what extent existing Good Samaritan laws change behavior.

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

As of January 2017, 37 states and Washington, DC have passed Good Samaritan drug overdose laws to encourage bystanders to call for help in the event of an overdose (NCSL-Overdose).

Implementation Resources

LawAtlas-Good Samaritan - Law Atlas. Good Samaritan overdose prevention laws map.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

US Mayors-Overdose 2014 - The US Conference of Mayors. The 82nd Annual Meeting Resolutions: Saving lives through overdose preventions. 2014.

NCSL-Overdose - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Drug overdose immunity and Good Samaritan laws. 2017.

Davis 2013* - Davis C, Webb D, Burris S. Changing law from barrier to facilitator of opioid overdose prevention. Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. 2013:33-36.

NPHL 2016 - Legal interventions to reduce overdose mortality: Naloxone access and overdose Good Samaritan laws. Network for Public Health Law (NPHL). 2016.

Follett 2012 - Follett K. Between life and death: The barriers to calling 9-1-1 during an overdose emergency. Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council. 2012:1-45.

Banta-Green 2013 - Banta-Green C J, Beletsky L, Schoeppe JA, Coffin PO, Kuszler PC. Police officers’ and paramedics' experiences with overdose and their knowledge and opinions of Washington State's drug overdose-naloxone-Good Samaritan law. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine. 2013;90(6):1102-;11.

Banta-Green 2011 - Banta-Green CJ, Kuszler PC, Coffin PO, Schoeppe JA. Washington's 911 Good Samaritan drug overdose law: Initial evaluation results. Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, University of Washington; 2011.

Davis 2014c* - Davis CS, Ruiz S, Glynn P, Picariello G, Walley AY. Expanded access to naloxone among firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians in Massachusetts. American Journal of Public Health. 2014;104(8):e7-e9.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

NCSL-Overdose - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Drug overdose immunity and Good Samaritan laws. 2017.

Date Last Updated