Most people are aware of the devastation caused by the recent opioid epidemic. In many communities, there has been a steady increase in the number of overdose deaths each year. Many who have died could have been saved if prompt medical treatment was received. And in some of those cases, medical treatment was not received because a friend or family member, who may not have realized the seriousness of the situation, failed to call 911 out of concern that criminal charges would be filed. In response, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted the Drug Overdose Response Immunity Law, 35 P.S. § 780-113.7.
This Good Samaritan law provides that “[a] person may not be charged and shall be immune from prosecution” for certain drug-related offenses in the following instances:
- The person transported another person who was experiencing a drug overdose event to a law enforcement agency, campus security office or health care facility; or
- If all of the following apply:
- The person called for emergency services while believing that a person was in need of immediate medical attention to prevent death or serious bodily injury due to a drug overdose;
- The person provided his or her name and location and cooperated with the emergency service providers; and,
- The person remained with the person in need of medical attention until emergency services arrived.
This section applies not just to an opioid-related overdose. The statute defines “drug overdose event” as an acute medical condition resulting from the consumption of one or more controlled substances causing an adverse reaction. A controlled substance is any drug classified under Schedules I through V of the Drug Act.
In addition to protecting the person who transported or called for assistance, the law prevents the prosecution of the person who was experiencing the drug overdose. It also bars the prosecution of a person for a probation or parole violation.
However, the law does not provide immunity for all drug-related crimes, and is limited to the more minor offenses, including possession of a controlled substance, possession of a small amount of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia. A person is not immune from prosecution for possession with intent to deliver. It also does not prevent prosecution if an officer obtains independent evidence of the drug offense.