If you’re with someone who suddenly seems to be suffering a drug overdose, it’s understandable to be frightened. Too many people – especially young people – panic and resist what may be the natural first instinct to get help. That’s especially true if you’ve been using drugs yourself. After all, calling 911 could bring the police to the scene.
Fatal drug overdoses remain at epidemic levels – especially throughout the south. Many victims could have been saved if they’d gotten emergency attention. However, those who are with them too often flee the scene out of fear of legal consequences. Some people don’t even call 911 for themselves because they’re afraid they’ll be arrested, despite the risk that their personal overdose situation could result in fatal consequences.
This is why most states, including Tennessee, have what are known as “Good Samaritan” or “overdose immunity” laws that protect those who seek help and those suffering an overdose from legal consequences for personal drug use.
What does Tennessee law say?
Under Tennessee law, anyone who “in good faith seeks medical assistance for a person experiencing or believed to be experiencing a drug overdose shall not be arrested, charged, or prosecuted for a drug violation if the evidence…resulted from seeking such medical assistance.” The law also covers the person who is, or seems to be, overdosing.
The drug violations covered by the law include possession and casual exchange of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia for personal use. The law also protects those who seek help as outlined in the law from consequences for parole, probation or pretrial release violations if they were discovered because they sought emergency help.
Note that the law doesn’t offer any kind of immunity if evidence of more serious drug offenses is discovered at the scene – for example, drug trafficking. It also doesn’t cover non-drug-related offenses. If police find suspected stolen property, for example, that’s not covered by this law. The law does, however, say that getting or providing medical aid for an overdose victim “may be used as a mitigating factor in a criminal prosecution for which immunity…is not provided.”
It’s important to know the law and your rights under it. Whether you believe you were wrongfully arrested and charged with a drug-related offense covered by the law or you were arrested for an offense not covered by it, it’s smart to get legal guidance as soon as possible.