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PA court: ‘Good Samaritan’ overdose law protects self-reporters

One of the ways that state authorities here in Pennsylvania have tried to make it easier to save the lives of people who are overdosing on drugs like heroin or fentanyl is through the state’s “Good Samaritan Law.”

This blog has previously written about the statute, which provides immunity from prosecution for people who witness a drug overdose and comply with police and first responders. Lawmakers crafted the law to encourage people who are using drugs to seek help when someone they are with is overdosing.

A recent Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling, however, holds that the law also provides protections from prosecution for people who report their own drug overdose.

Woman reported own overdose only to face charges

In this ruling, the court dismissed the conviction of an overdosing woman charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. The woman called police herself when she believed she was overdosing. Responding officers found paraphernalia that the woman admitted to using to smoke marijuana. A judge sentenced her to three months probation.

The Superior Court judge, however, stated that even though the Good Samaritan law’s language only protects those who call for help on behalf of someone else, it would be “absurd” to not interpret the law to also protect self-reporters.

Indeed, while it is rare for someone to be able to report their own overdose in time, what good does the law serve if those people do not also enjoy the same protections? What if someone is alone, and there is no one there to call 911 for them?

Episode shows we have a long way to go

And while state authorities try to stem the tide of overdoses, this arrest shows that there may still be a disconnect between lofty goals and actions on the ground. Possession of drug paraphernalia is a charge that many people face even if police didn’t recover any actual drugs at the time of an arrest. It is a way for prosecutors to assert that they are tough on crime. It is a charge that can still have serious effects on someone’s future.

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