“Good Samaritan” Law Tries to Reduce Overdose Deaths

Go ahead, take your friend to the hospital. You won't be arrested.

Remember that scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman overdosed on John Travolta’s heroin, and he had to figure out how to save her life — and his own, since she was the wife of a crime boss — while not getting busted himself for illegal drugs? That led to one of the more eye-popping moments in modern cinematic history:

Here’s the good news: Today, Travolta could just take Thurman to the hospital — in Pennsylvania, at least.

That’s the idea, anyway, behind the “Good Samaritan” law that went into effect in Pennsylvania over the weekend. PennLive explains:

Anyone hesitant to take someone overdosing on heroin to the hospital or cooperate with the police for fear of arrest will now be immune to prosecution on drug use or possession charges.

The “Good Samaritan” law, which went into effect Saturday, prevents law enforcement from prosecuting the person who called for help or the person overdosing. Police cannot act on information developed solely in response to the call for help.

Secretary Gary Tennis, of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Program, said there are a shocking number of people who are overdosing every day in the state. In 2011, six people died every day from drug overdoses in the state.

That number — six O.D. deaths a day? wow — is sobering. And if the Pulp Fiction example seems a bit crass in the face of that, well, we probably have Hollywood to thank for the new law.

Back in February, after actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an overdose, Philadelphia writer Christopher Moraff observed for Al Jazeera: “Unfortunately, even though studies show that most overdoses occur in front of witnesses, thousands still die each year in the company of others because they or the people they are using with are too afraid of police harassment or arrest to call for help. They have good reason to be. In 36 states, calling 911 can land a person in jail.”

That’s now the case in fewer states. Hoffman’s death seemed to provide the impetus for officials to revamp their laws to make it easier to save overdosing heroin users. The Fix reports:

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia now have some form of access law for naloxone, a prescription drug administered via needle or nasal inhaler that blocks the brain receptors to which heroin or other opioids bind. That’s up from 18 states last year and just eight in 2012.

Eight states have also passed laws allowing emergency officials and members of the public to more easily administer the drug, while three states have passed Good Samaritan laws that allow those with the victim to call 911 without being prosecuted for a drug crime.

Secretary Gary Tennis, of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Program, told PennLive that it may be tough to make heroin users aware of the new law. “There’s not really a stakeholder group of folks actively using opioids,” he said. “It’s a tough group to get to. We’re hitting every angle we can possibly think of.”