Studies show the Latinx and African-American communities are losing trust in law enforcement. This is because of a number of different reasons, such as societal stigmatization and prejudicial rhetoric against minorities. While in some cases it’s understandable why this erosion of trust is taking place, it makes things difficult for combatting the opioid crisis. Mutual trust between police and the community at large is necessary for harm reduction services to act as they should. This is where the Massachusetts Good Samaritan Law comes into play.
The Good Samaritan Law is the common name for a state law that protects substance users experiencing overdose symptoms from being arrested. It’s meant to encourage people to seek medical attention if they overdose by calling 9-1-1, protecting them from prosecution for illegal acts such as possession of an illicit substance.
The rule also extends to people with the overdose victim; so if they witness an overdose, they, too, will not be arrested.
The point of the law is not to arrest substance users, but instead to urge them to seek sustainable, long-lasting treatment and recovery services. Responders on the scene may administer the overdose-reversal drug naloxone (aka Narcan), and provide users with dosages to carry on themselves if medical assistance is unavailable.
Now, the law can also be a bit tricky to understand. It doesn’t exactly guarantee full immunity from prosecution. For example, if someone at the scene calls the police under the Good Samaritan Law and the caller has prior warrants or is intending to distribute substances, the protection goes away.
Here’s a breakdown:
What the Good Samaritan Law does:
- Protects people from prosecution for possession of controlled substances when calling 9-1-1
- Empowers witnesses to call 9-1-1 during an overdose
- Saves lives and gives people who use opioids a chance to seek recovery and treatment services
- Provides legal protection for medical professionals who prescribe naloxone, or people who possess and/or administer naloxone to someone appearing to suffer an opioid-related overdose
- Builds trust between law enforcement and members of the community
What the Good Samaritan Law does not do:
- Does not interfere with law enforcement securing the scene at an overdose
- Does not prevent prosecution for drug trafficking
- Does not prevent prosecution for outstanding warrants
The Gándara Center hosted two Spanish-speaking Narcan training events in November. Here we provided attendees with step-by-step instructions on how to act if they encounter an overdose. These included techniques for giving rescue breathing to overdose victims and best practices for administering Narcan. We believe everyone—Everyone!—should possess, know how to use, and be prepared to use Narcan. It could save a life.
We also enlisted the help of officers from the Springfield and Holyoke police departments to help residents restore trust with law enforcement. The officers explained the Good Samaritan Law from their perspective. They reminded everyone that their primary job is to maintain a safe community and it’s not their intention to simply go around locking people up on drug charges; rather, they want to help people recovery from their substance use and/or mental health disorders.