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Washington’s Good Samaritan Law

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The opioid crisis is impacting communities across the United States, including many in Washington state. Many people refrain from seeking help with opioid abuse due to fear of the law, putting themselves and their loved ones at risk of overdose death, avoiding the hospital or emergency services in dangerous situations. However, Washington’s Good Samaritan Law aims to make it easier for people to seek help with drug addiction, providing immunity from criminal prosecution.

The Opioid Epidemic in Washington State

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioid overdose deaths have increased in Washington over the past decade, particularly involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. In 2017 alone, Washington saw 742 opioid overdose deaths – that’s a rate of 9.6 deaths per 100,000 people in the state.

While prescription opioid deaths have decreased slightly from 474 in 2010 to 343 in 2017, increases in other types of opioid overdoses show a frightening trend. In 2010, 60 people in Washington state died from a heroin overdose – but in 2017, this statistic increased to 306 deaths by heroin. The fastest growing source of opioid overdose is synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl. Synthetic opioid-related deaths grew from 59 deaths in 2013 to 143 deaths in 2017.

What Is the Good Samaritan Law?

Under Washington law, the state protects anyone who is helping someone suffering from a medical emergency from civil liabilities, but the state did not extend the same protections to criminal charges. However, the 911 Good Samaritan Overdose Law changes this for people seeking medical attention for alcohol and drug overdoses.

This law allows for people assisting someone having an overdose and the overdose victim to gain immunity from certain criminal charges. The goal of this law is to decrease the amount of opioid, alcohol, and other drug-related deaths in the state and make it easier for people to seek help when they need it.

  • If someone in Washington seeks medical assistant for a drug-related overdose, he or she cannot receive a charge for drug possession.
  • If someone in Washington is experiencing an overdose, he or she cannot receive a drug possession charge.
  • Anyone in Washington who might experience or witness an opioid overdose can carry and administer naloxone.

The Good Samaritan law grants immunity to anyone who is making a good faith effort to seek medical assistance for an overdose, whether it be for opioids, alcohol poisoning, or another substance. Good faith efforts include calling 911, seeking the assistance of a friend in the medical field, or bringing someone to the emergency room.

Other Criminal Charges and the Good Samaritan Law

While the Good Samaritan law does provide protection against drug possession charges, it does not grant immunity for all drug-related charges. A person can still receive charges related to drug manufacturing or delivery, probation or parole violations, outstanding warrants, and other charges.

One situation that could land a person in legal trouble would be if the overdose victim dies and the person seeking medical attention provided the victim with the drugs that killed them. A judge could charge this person with controlled substance homicide, but if the person did seek help in good faith, he or she may see a reduced sentence.

Alcohol and the Good Samaritan Law

While most uses of the Good Samaritan law involve the use of dangerous and illegal drugs, the state amended the law in 2013 to include alcohol use by minors. Alcohol poisoning is a deadly condition that comes several lives every year, but minors are less likely to seek help for it due to fear of getting in trouble. Minors under the age of 21 can seek medical attention for a peer if he or she is suffering from an alcohol overdose and receive immunity from alcohol possession charges.

Washington’s Good Samaritan law provides opportunities for people to seek help when they need it, hopefully reducing the amount of alcohol and drug-related deaths that the state sees each year. If someone receives a possession charge after helping a loved one during an overdose, he or she should seek a Tacoma criminal defense attorney’s help as soon as possible.

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