Good Samaritan law is clarified
What is Ohio’s Good Samaritan Law? This law allows qualified persons who would otherwise be subjected to arrest for a minor drug possession offense to not be arrested if they seek or obtain medical assistance for themselves or another individual (Ohio Revised Code Section 2925.11, Possession of Controlled Substances.)
The premise behind the law is to allow people to seek medical assistance in drug overdose situations without fear of criminal prosecution and to encourage such persons to seek treatment. But that holds true only if certain conditions are met. A person who meets these conditions is a “qualified individual.”
The Good Samaritan Law defines “qualified individual” as a person who is not on community control or post-release control and is acting in good faith, who seeks or obtains medical assistance for themselves or another person experiencing a drug overdose. A person on “community control” is on probation with no jail time, whereas someone on “post-release control” has been released from jail but must meet certain court-imposed restrictions in order to stay out of jail or remain on parole. “Minor drug offense” means a violation of the law that is a misdemeanor or a fifth degree felony. The law also states that to “seek or obtain medical assistance” indicates, but is not limited to, making a 911 call, contacting in person or by telephone an on-duty police officer, or transporting, or presenting a person in person to a health care facility.
For example, say Jack and Jill are using drugs at their home. Jack is out on parole for writing bad checks, and Jill has never even received a speeding ticket. Jill passes out and cannot be awakened. Jack calls 911 for help, and the sheriff arrives before the emergency squad and administers Narcan to Jill, who is revived. When the squad does arrive, Jill refuses transportation to a hospital. Both admit to the deputy they were abusing opiates, and smoking marijuana. The deputy sees four tablets in a medicine bottle with Jack’s name on it in plain sight, along with a half smoked joint. Nothing else in the home is found that would suggest illicit drug use. According to the Good Samaritan Law, the only “qualified individual” in this case is Jill. But Jill is not free and clear from being arrested; Why? Because she must meet these conditions the “qualified individual” must meet for the Good Samaritan Law to apply.
First, the evidence of obtaining, possessing, or using a controlled substance, the basis of the offense, was obtained as a result of the qualified individual seeking medical assistance. Second, within 30 days after receiving medical assistance, the qualified individual must seek and obtain a screening and receive a referral for treatment from a credentialed addiction treatment provider. Third, the qualified individual who obtains a screening and receives a referral for treatment, upon the request of the prosecuting attorney, must submit documentation that verifies the qualified individual has satisfied the second requirement.
Jill was using opiates that she freely admitted were given to her by Jack, which would normally result in an arrest (Step 1). Since she is a qualified individual, law enforcement will give her 30 days to obtain a screening and referral for treatment (Step 2). If she does so, and presents the documentation to the prosecuting attorney, the Good Samaritan Law grants her immunity, and she will not be arrested or charged (Step 3). If she does not, then it is up to law enforcement to take the next step in the legal process.
As for Jack, he is not a qualified individual due to being on parole. The Good Samaritan Law does not apply to him. Can he be arrested? Maybe. The prescription is in his name, and he was in possession of marijuana and admitted to smoking it. It will be up to law enforcement and the judicial system to take the next appropriate step. The possession of marijuana is a violation of his parole. He did the right thing by calling 911, but his parole officer will most likely be contacted. No doubt Jack will be back in front of the judge, and it will up to the judge’s discretion to determine Jack’s fate.
Returning to Jill, she fulfills steps 2 and 3, and has immunity. What about the next time with the same circumstances? Again, if Jill overdoses or calls on behalf of someone who is overdosing, and could have been arrested for a minor drug charge, she will receive immunity. But under the Good Samaritan Law, no person will be granted immunity more than twice.
The purpose of the Good Samaritan Law is to save lives and refer individuals into appropriate treatment. But this law does not always do what it was intended to do. People are still allowing overdose victims to die – and people are still in fear of prosecution if they make that 911 call.
Understand the life you are saving is someone’s child, mother, father, aunt, uncle, brother, sister. It only takes one 911 call to save someone’s life! There is hope that all those suffering with a Substance Use Disorder will find their way out. Until then, please let us all have compassion for fellow citizens and make that life-saving 911 call!
Dr. William Bauer and Cindy Arnold are Washington County Behavioral Health Board members.