WASHINGTON — Maryland has added a new law this week meant to save lives, and while D.C. has a version of it, Virginia doesn’t.
Maryland is the 20th state in the nation to enact a “Good Samaritan Law,” which provides some immunity to people who summon medical help for someone overdosing on drugs or alcohol.
“A lot of people do drugs or alcohol with their friends or family … obviously it’s illegal. They’re worried that if they call the police that they’ll be in jail,” explains Albert Lang, spokesman for Trust for America’s Health, a non-profit group that researches preventable health issues ranging from drug abuse to obesity.
Good Samaritan laws provide some legal protection to a person who summons help for someone suffering from a drug or alcohol medical emergency.
Heroin and prescription drug abuse have become a rising public health epidemic. Drug overdoses in Maryland jumped 33 percent in the first three months of this year. Heroin overdose deaths in Northern Virginia climbed 164 percent between 2011 and 2013.
“Heroin and prescription drugs, in the form of oxycodone and painkillers, have become a huge problem over the last decade or so — it’s become one of the bigger rising public health epidemics,” Lang says.
The strength of Good Samaritan laws vary from state to state. In some states, a person summoning help for a person overdosing is given immunity from prosecution.
Maryland’s law is far more modest, making the call for help a mitigating factor at time of sentencing.
Although Virginia does not have a Good Samaritan Law, Attorney General Mark Herring announced plans earlier this month to combat heroin and prescription drug overdoses with several initiatives involving education, prevention and treatment.
- D.C. to give limited immunity to overdose witnesses
- Md. bill would protect those who call for help in overdose cases
- Dramatic rise in heroin use across Md.
- Reacting in an emergency: What to do