Protection for Good Samaritans

In 2015, the Good Samaritan Law, designed to protect people from prosecution if they call emergency services to help a companion who overdosed, was allowed to expire due to a sunset provision. This was the first time ‘Lil Rhody lost a law thanks to a political snafu by the General Assembly toward the end of their session. In the six months or so without the law, some police departments continued to honor it, and some police departments didn’t, with mixed reports across the state.

Rhode Island continues to be on the front line in a nationwide epidemic of drug abuse. Overdoses from either prescription or illicit drugs have risen sharply in the past four years. In 2016 in Rhode Island there were 283 deaths, over 100 more than there were in 2015. According to the Department of Health, that number is still expected to rise as it continues to confirm causes of death.

Luckily, last January the General Assembly passed a permanent version of the 2012 Good Samaritan Law. It sets out legal protections for those who try to help an overdosing individual, as well as individuals found in possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia due to an emergency call. The new version of the bill also includes a provision that protects people on parole or probation from parole violations.

So what should you do if you find yourself in a situation involving a drug overdose? “The most important thing is to call 911,” says Rebecca McGoldrick, Executive Director of Protect Families First, a local nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the human cost of drug abuse. “The Good Samaritan law gives you limited protection from possession or drug paraphernalia charges.” And you may save a life.

With the law back in action, Rhode Islanders have a responsibility to themselves and their community to call emergency services in the case of an overdose.