As more powerful and toxic illegal drugs have made their way across America, fatal overdose rates have climbed. There’s no doubt that some of these fatalities could have been avoided if the person overdosing or someone who was with them hadn’t feared that if they called 911 or otherwise sought emergency help, they’d end up under arrest.
That’s why many states, including Ohio, have enacted “Good Samaritan” or “overdose immunity” laws that provide immunity from arrest and prosecution for minor drug offenses discovered only because a person sought help for someone (including themselves) whom they reasonably believed was overdosing. The goal is to prevent people from leaving the scene – and leaving someone potentially to die – because they’re afraid of the consequences associated with seeking help.
Some details about Ohio’s Good Samaritan law
The law provides immunity for a “minor drug possession offense,” which includes misdemeanors and fifth-degree felonies. The law was amended late in 2022 to include offenses involving drug paraphernalia as well. It applies to those who seek medical assistance for themselves or someone else by taking actions like “making a 9-1-1 call, contacting in person or by telephone call an on-duty peace officer, or transporting or presenting a person to a health care facility.” It also applies to the person overdosing if someone else gets help for them.
While you can avoid being arrested, charged and prosecution for a drug-related offense involving your own personal supply of drugs and paraphernalia, it’s important to know that there may be some minor strings attached to seeking help for someone else. The law allows prosecutors to require the “Good Samaritan” to have a drug screening within 30 days of the initial event, obtain a referral for drug treatment and submit proof that they’ve fulfilled these requirements.
It’s crucial to understand that the law isn’t designed to be a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for any criminal offense. If police were to find stolen items, illegal weapons or evidence of a drug trafficking operation at the scene of an overdose, for example, there will likely be a further investigation.
While this law can help you avoid a criminal record for your own drug use, it’s not always applied perfectly in real life. Overdose scenes are typically chaotic. It’s not always apparent who actually sought help or what drugs belong to whom. If you’re facing charges from which you believe you should have immunity or other drug or criminal charges, it’s smart to seek legal guidance to protect your rights.