A few weeks ago I was reading an article in the Vineyard Gazette reporting the death of a fifty-year old man presumable from a Heroin overdose. According to the report, at 9:00 a.m. the police were called to a home in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. There, they a man they believed to have died from a Heroin overdose. A syringe was nearby along with some other Heroin related use paraphernalia. Apparently an informant provided information to the police that the man’s roommate would sell over five hundred bags of heroin per week. The police encountered the roommate that morning and learned that he had just used Heroin and a Class B drug. He was charged with Possession of Heroin, a Class A Substance in Massachusetts. While in the home officers saw additional drug related materials sufficient for them to apply for and obtain a Search Warrant. The execution of the Search Warrant disclosed enough drugs in the home to charge the roommate with Trafficking Heroin. I wondered just how long the man had been dead and what the roommate did after seeing him overdose.
Then today, I read an article about a proposed Minnesota law designed to encourage people to immediately report drug overdoses in exchange for immunity. The bill is being sponsored by a state senator whose daughter died of a drug overdose in 2007. The young woman overdosed on Heroin. Her companion at that time spent about one half hour cleaning up all evidence of Heroin Possession and use. Then he called 911 and reported that he had no idea why she was unconscious. The senator has maintained that if the other person present at the time of the overdose had no fear of consequences he might have reported the overdose in time for the woman to be saved.
Laws such as the one being proposed in Minnesota are known as Good Samaritan laws. They give immunity in some form to people who help people who overdose in their presence. Several states now have Good Samaritan laws. Massachusetts does not have one of this nature. Studies suggest that Good Samaritan laws can save lives. Drug overdose survival depends on who quickly medical assistance is provided. If someone had a heart attack everyone in the room would call 911 in hopes that the person’s life would be saved. Not so with drug overdoses. Drug users who overdose when not along are typically with other drug users or sellers. These people are not quick to call for help. Rather, like the man in Oak Bluffs, or the Minnesota senator’s daughter’s friend, they first try to conceal evidence of their involvement in criminal activity. Some simply walk away from the situation entirely. These laws would encourage people to act immediately and try to save a life rather than first trying to save their own criminal exposure.
The current Good Samaritan laws protect people from prosecution for Possession of Drugs, Possession With the Intent to Distribute small quantities of drugs and low level Distribution of Drugs. They do not protect people engaged in Drug Trafficking activity. As a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer who has represented hundreds of clients charged with Massachusetts Drug Crimes I would like to see one of these laws passed in Massachusetts.