Across the country, a number of states have Good Samaritan laws in place—legislation designed to protect people who call 911 on behalf of an overdose victim or assist someone who is choking or not breathing. Too often, the people who step in to save a life end up sued by the person they saved or arrested by law enforcement when they are found to be under the influence or in possession of drugs. As a result, many are choosing to walk away from situations where they could save a life, allowing people to succumb to overdose when they might have survived if help had been called in time.In an effort to increase the number of people willing to call for help on behalf of someone in crisis, Good Samaritan laws serve to protect bystanders from prosecution. Do you think these laws would help save lives in Texas?
Why are these Laws being Considered?
The Texas House Select Committee on Opioids and Substance Abuse not only looked at how these laws have impacted other states but also explored the effect of the opioid epidemic on first responders, law enforcement, and other emergency medical employees.
Lara Lamprecht is the assistant deputy commissioner at the Texas Department of State Health Services. She spoke on behalf of implementing Good Samaritan laws in Texas, telling legislators: “The latest research from 2017 and March 2018 has established that these laws are associated with the reduction in drug overdose deaths in the states that enact them.”
Why are They Controversial?
On the other hand, while everyone agrees that saving lives is the priority, some point out that law enforcement and first responders are already overwhelmed in some areas. They feel that the law should come with a clear path for how law enforcement should handle blatant violations of the law that they encounter in the process of responding to the overdose.
Mark Davis is a sheriff in Hardin County. He says: “Our first and foremost duty and principle is to save lives. Anything we can do as a state, as a community to encourage someone to make that lifesaving phone call—a friend, a loved one of a victim of an overdose—anything we can do to encourage them to notify first responders, to get EMS, to get that person to a hospital, I think that’s a win-win.
“How far are we willing to go to waive the burden of criminal responsibility in exchange for getting someone to make that phone call that’s going to save a life? I think we truly need to make a clear distinction between a person who is an addict and possessing that because they’re addicted to opioids or a substance, versus someone who is a dealer and a trafficker.”
Do Good Samaritan Laws Really Protect Callers?
Most of the time, the person most likely to see someone overdose is someone who is getting high with them and/ or in a location where there are drugs and paraphernalia in plain view and in the possession of others present. In some states, the line between what will be ignored by law enforcement and what will not feels thin and arbitrary.
Lucas Hill is the director of Operation Naloxone and a clinical assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy. He says: “People don’t trust them. There’s a lot of good reason not to trust them. While they all protect from prosecution for substance possession, many do not protect an individual from prosecution for paraphernalia, which is always going to be there. The majority do not protect them from other violations such as parole or probation violation.”
Hill believes that access to naloxone is more important than Good Samaritan laws. Naloxone is the drug that can effectively overturn an overdose. It is used by first responders when they arrive on the scene of an overdose. He says that most people, if they have the option, will administer naloxone and avoid calling 911 at all. Without naloxone, they might call but then leave immediately afterward to avoid interacting with law enforcement.
What Do You Think?
Are Good Samaritan laws a piece of the puzzle when fighting the opioid epidemic? Or, would the time and energy be better spent increasing access to naloxone, treatment, and information about the nature of opiate abuse and addiction to decrease stigma?