Illinois “Good Samaritan” law protects those who report overdoses

Drug overdose has become a serious problem across the country and particularly in Illinois. The ease of access to and abuse of prescription drugs is often blamed. Prescription drugs are also common gateways to harder drugs, such as heroin. According to reporting from The Atlantic, drug deaths now exceed traffic-related fatalities, claiming 37,000 lives each year.

The fear of a felony drug charge means that many times friends are afraid to call and report overdoses. In a Long Island community, a group of girls dumped their friend on her boyfriend's lawn after she had a bad reaction while they were getting high. They were afraid to call 911, because they thought they would get in trouble.

Emergency Services Access Law

Earlier this year, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a billed titled the Emergency Services Access Law, also referred to as the "Good Samaritan" law. The law went into effect in June.

What the law does is it establishes extended rights for a drug user who calls to report that someone else is overdosing. The act provides limited immunity for violations of the Controlled Substance Act when calling on behalf of someone who needs emergency aid.

Illinois is not the first state to pass this type of legislation. In 2007, New Mexico was the first. Washington followed in 2010, and since then six other states - New York, Connecticut, Colorado, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Florida - have passed similar laws. A law in California will go into effect in January 2013.

Getting out the word to save lives

Many supporters of the law in New York have found that they need to work harder to make sure that people know about the law. They have found that many community members including some law enforcement officers do not know that users are supposed to receive immunity when they call 911 to save their friend's lives.

In Illinois, a Consortium on Drug Policy study found overdose deaths on the increase. In September, loved ones of those who have died after heroin overdoses gathered in Schaumburg, Illinois for International Overdose Awareness Day.

At the vigil, speakers praised the Good Samaritan law as a first step toward reducing drug overdose deaths, however, there continues to be stigma surrounding drug use. One Illinois legislator proposed amending the law to require that users seeking medical help for others enter treatment or still face prosecution. With talk of changes to the new law, those who witness overdoses may still fear reporting.

If you called 911 to request aid for a friend who was overdosing and were charged with possession of a controlled substance, contact a criminal defense attorney. There could still be misunderstandings regarding the immunity provided in the new law. An attorney will be able to discuss whether immunity may be available in your unique circumstances.