CHESTERTOWN — States like Maryland with Good Samaritan laws are linked with lower rates of overdose deaths from opioids, according to a recent study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Almost 1 million Americans have died of drug overdoses since 1999, with record-breaking deaths last year at more than 93,000. In Maryland opioid overdoses killed 2,499 people in 2020 — the most ever recorded.
So far this year, Kent County has had nine suspected overdose deaths. And while use of the life-saving opioid overdose antidote Narcan is becoming more common, Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law continues to encourage people to get help when someone overdoses.
Maryland’s Good Samaritan Law became effective on Oct. 1, 2015 and protects people who help with an overdose from arrest and prosecution for certain crimes.
That protection only applies to someone who calls 911 and stays until help arrives. The law is intended to help save lives by encouraging bystanders to get help and stay until that help arrives.
“One of the top priorities is the preservation of life,” said Capt. Dennis Hickman with the Kent County Sheriff’s Office. “We want our citizens to immediately call for help in the event of a drug or alcohol health emergency. In many cases, especially when someone is suffering from an opiate overdose, only immediate medical intervention can reverse the effects.”
Kent County Health Officer William Webb stressed the immediacy of getting help when a person overdoses. He said opioids can kill faster than a venomous snake bite. Street drugs, he added, are unpredictable and dangerous.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office reviewed 17 studies on the effectiveness of Good Samaritan laws and determined that states with them had lower rates of overdose deaths. The review also determined that people who knew about Good Samaritan laws were more likely to call 911 if someone overdoses.
Kent County State’s Attorney Bryan P. DiGregory said cases involving the Good Samaritan law come across his desk regularly. Once they identify those cases, they nolle pros — drop — the applicable charges and move forward prosecuting any remaining charges.
DiGregory said overall he is in favor of the law, but sometimes it creates a missed opportunity to get someone help through the justice system. Offering the PAST (post-adjudication supervision and treatment) program helps provide assistance for substance use disorder while avoiding a conviction, for example.
“In the short term the law certainly can save a life, but the individual’s behavior generally doesn’t change, which can lead to another overdose where there is no one around to make a call to the police,” DiGregory said.
Forty-seven states plus Washington, D.C. have enacted both Good Samaritan and Naloxone (Narcan) Access laws. The laws vary from state to state.
In Maryland, when someone calls 911 during an overdose — and does not leave until help arrives — that person’s parole or probation status isn’t affected. In addition, the person helping won’t be arrested for any of the following: possessing or administering drugs or paraphernalia; providing alcohol to minors; or underage possession of alcohol.
The law does not apply to drug felonies or other crimes not listed above and doesn’t protect someone who leaves a medical emergency. The law also does not prevent law enforcement from conducting an investigation and gathering evidence.
Specifically, the law protects a person from six misdemeanor crimes:
§ 5-601: Possessing or Administering CDS
§ 5-619: Drug Paraphernalia
§ 5-620: Controlled Paraphernalia
§ 10-114: Underage Possession of Alcohol
§ 10-116: Obtaining Alcohol for Underage Consumption
§ 10-117: Furnishing for or allowing underage consumption of alcohol
Learning about this law, and talking about it with your children, could help prevent unnecessary deaths. The law applies to all drugs — including alcohol, which remains the most abused substance among our youth.
“Nearly everyone has in some way been affected by this epidemic,” Hickman said. “Making the call when someone needs help may save a life. Make the call.”
Kent Goes Purple is a substance abuse awareness and prevention initiative from Kent County Sheriff’s Office and Chestertown Rotary Club, that empowers local youths and the community to “Go Purple” as a sign of taking a stand against substance abuse.
Kent Goes Purple focuses on preventing substance use in our youth, for which there are many different proven, evidence-based strategies.
Get more information about Kent Goes Purple at www.KentGoesPurple.org and on Facebook @kent goespurple.