Being with someone who suffers a drug overdose can be extremely frightening – whether you know them or not. Some people don’t survive overdoses only because they didn’t get prompt medical attention. However, in too many cases, the people with them when they overdose are afraid to call 911 or take them to an emergency room because they, too, have been using illegal drugs.
This is why most states, including Tennessee, have enacted “Good Samaritan” laws that provide some immunity from legal consequences for those who seek help and for the overdose victim. Each state’s law is written differently. Let’s take a look at Tennessee’s law.
Who can get immunity and how?
Tennessee law states that someone 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 protects the person suffering the overdose (whether they were the one who sought help or someone else sought help for them).
The drug violations covered by the law include possession and casual exchange of illegal drugs as well as possession of drug paraphernalia. The law also covers parole, probation or pretrial release violations. Immunity only applies if the violations were discovered solely because someone sought help for an overdose.
Tennessee’s Good Samaritan law, like those of other states, is intended to provide immunity from prosecution for someone’s personal drug use if it was discovered only because they sought medical help. If police show up to an overdose scene and find a room full of stolen TVs or illegal firearms or a vast quantity of illegal drugs that suggests a trafficking operation, this law isn’t going to provide immunity for charges related to that. The law does, however, state that seeking help for someone suffering an overdose can be used as a mitigating factor in considering charges against that person.
The law doesn’t guarantee that law enforcement won’t occasionally arrest someone who qualifies for immunity. It can be difficult to determine what’s what at an overdose scene. If you believe that you or a loved one qualifies for immunity or other consideration under this law, it’s important to get legal guidance as soon as possible.