Some States Encouraging Immunity When Reporting Drug Overdose

When a person overdoses on illegal drugs sometimes people do not report the overdose out of fear that they may be charged with a drug crime. To encourage reports of overdoses for medical purposes, some states have passed laws that grant immunity from drug charges in overdose scenarios. While Pennsylvania does not have such a law, five states have passed drug overdose and immunity laws over the last two years.

Deaths related to illegal drug overdoses in the United States have jumped in recent years, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths caused by prescription painkillers have more than tripled in over the last decade. In response to the increase in overdose deaths, there is a push to pass laws that provide criminal immunity to those who report drug overdoses.

So far only eight states have passed immunity laws, but the legal trend may be starting to grow. Advocates for immunity laws say drug deaths would be reduced if more people were comfortable gaining medical help during overdose situations. A study that looked at the effects of the law in Washington State found that the majority of opiate users in the state are more likely to call in an overdose because of the immunity law. However, the same study found that more than 60 percent of the surveyed police said they would not make an arrest for drug possession because of an overdose report.

Opponents of the overdose report and immunity laws argue the laws are overly broad and allow individuals to take advantage of the immunity by engaging in illegal behavior. Advocates for the immunity laws say the laws are tailored to limit immunity to simple drug possession charges and that the laws do not provide protection to individuals engaged in larger drug activities, such as basement labs.

Regardless of the status of immunity laws in Pennsylvania, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help a person accused of drug crimes negotiate the legal process.

Source: The Associated Press, "States Encouraging Drug Users to Report Overdoses," Eric Tucker, July 18, 2012


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