Public Health Advocates Want Good Samaritan Law Reinstated

Jun 30, 2015

A law meant to encourage people to call 911 when someone overdoses will expire July 1st. An effort to extend the Good Samaritan law failed to pass the General Assembly. Now, a chorus of disapproval is rising among public health advocates.

All first responders in Rhode Island carry Narcan, an overdose antidote. It must be administered urgently to reverse an overdose.
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

State officials wanted a shelf date on Rhode Island’s Good Samaritan law in case it had a negative impact on law enforcement. The state attorney general says the law has barred officers from charging people with drug crimes in some cases. But National Network for Public Health Law spokesman Corey Davis said repealing the law could cost lives.

“Most state laws like this don’t have an expiration date," Davis said. "In my mind it never made sense in the first place to have a sunset provision in the law. And to actually permit it to sunset makes even less sense.” 

Davis says that’s because fear of arrest is one of the major barriers for people who use drugs to call 911 about an overdose.

The office of Rhode Island’s attorney general Peter Kilmartin says the law barred officers from charging people at the scene of an overdose 92 times in the past three years. Kilmartin has said he is concerned about the law's impact on law enforcement.