Good Samaritan drug overdose laws

Evidence Rating  
Expert Opinion
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers

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 services1, 2, 3. 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 warrants1, 2. Good Samaritan drug overdose laws often accompany efforts to expand layperson’s ability to administer naloxone in opioid overdose situations3.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced overdose deaths

What does the research say about effectiveness? This strategy is rated expert opinion.

Good Samaritan drug overdose laws are a suggested strategy to reduce drug overdose death, especially opioid overdose deaths1, 2, 3, 4. Available evidence suggests that fear of arrest is a common barrier to calling 911 during an overdose5, 6; fear of police involvement can lead bystanders to delay or forgo calling 911, increasing risk of overdose death4. A Washington-based survey suggests that as drug users learn about Good Samaritan laws, they become more likely to call 911 during an overdose7, and law enforcement officers in states that have adopted Good Samaritan laws report that these laws have improved citizens’ image of law enforcement8. However, additional evidence is needed to confirm whether and to what extent existing Good Samaritan laws change behavior.

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

As of 2018, 45 states and Washington, D.C. have passed Good Samaritan drug overdose laws to encourage bystanders to call for help in the event of an overdose9.


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1 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.

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

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

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

5 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.

6 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.

7 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.

8 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.

9 PDAPS-Overdose - Prescription Drug Abuse Policy System (PDAPS). Good Samaritan overdose prevention laws.

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