As stronger and more lethal drugs become increasingly easy to obtain, law enforcement and health officials continue to look for ways to minimize the mounting death toll from overdoses. Many overdose victims can be saved if they get the right help in time. Unfortunately, too many people flee the scene or don’t get help for themselves out of fear of arrest. In fact, this is the most common reason people give for not getting emergency medical aid for an overdose.
One step that many states, including Massachusetts, have taken is to provide immunity from arrest and prosecution for those who call 911 or otherwise seek emergency help for someone (including themselves) who appears to be suffering an overdose.
How does Massachusetts law protect those who get emergency help?
The Massachusetts Good Samaritan Law provides immunity from arrest and prosecution for drug possession charges if evidence was discovered only because the individual under scrutiny sought help for an overdose or if they administered naloxone to an overdose victim. The law also provides immunity from a violation of “condition of probation, pretrial release or parole” if evidence was discovered the same way. Those protections extend to the person for whom they sought help as well.
Note that the law doesn’t provide immunity for higher level drug offenses. If police arrive on the scene and find evidence of “trafficking, distribution or possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute,” for example, the law doesn’t apply. It does note, however, that getting help for someone experiencing a drug overdose “may be used as a mitigating factor in a criminal prosecution under the Controlled Substance Act” under these circumstances.
The law also doesn’t cover any other type of offenses. If police discover what they believe to be stolen property, illegal weapons or evidence of a violent crime when responding to an overdose situation, for example, they can arrest people and they may be charged accordingly.
Overdose scenes can be chaotic and crowded – especially when first responders show up. It can take police some time to sort out who’s who and who called for help. If you’ve been arrested and charged for drug possession but you believe you qualify for immunity under the law, it’s crucial to protect your rights. Even if the offense with which you’re charged doesn’t qualify under the law, it may help to make the case that your alleged wrongdoing was only discovered because you did the right thing. Getting legal guidance as soon as possible can help.