Drug overdoses remain at crisis levels in Florida and throughout the country. Minutes can make the difference between a fatal overdose and one that’s survivable. Too often, however, the people with someone who suffers an overdose are afraid to call 911 for fear they (and the person overdosing) will be arrested. Some won’t even call for help for themselves.
Most states, including Florida, have enacted laws that protect those who seek emergency aid for an overdose from being charged and prosecuted for their personal drug use if it’s discovered by law enforcement only because they sought help (or someone sought help for them) for an apparent overdose. These are sometimes referred to as “overdose immunity” or “Good Samaritan” laws.
When does Florida’s overdose immunity law apply?
The law states, “A person acting in good faith who seeks medical assistance for an individual experiencing, or believed to be experiencing, an alcohol-related or a drug-related overdose may not be arrested, charged, prosecuted, or penalized” for drug-related crimes involving use or possession if “the evidence for such offense was obtained as a result of the person’s seeking medical assistance.” The same immunity applies to a person who “experiences, or has a good faith belief that he or she is experiencing, an alcohol-related or a drug-related overdose and is in need of medical assistance.”
The law also protects people from being penalized “for a violation of a condition of pretrial release, probation, or parole if the evidence for such violation was obtained as a result of the person’s seeking medical assistance.”
What doesn’t the law cover?
The law doesn’t apply to more serious felony drug offenses. It also doesn’t apply to non-drug or alcohol-related offenses that police may discover evidence of at the scene (theft, illegal weapons or violent crimes, for example).
Further, the law doesn’t apply to other alleged criminal activity. The law states that a person’s actions in seeking emergency aid for an overdose “may not be grounds for suppression of evidence in other criminal prosecutions.”
This is a lot to remember – particularly at a chaotic time. A person’s first instincts should always be to save a life – their own or someone else’s. The rest can be sorted out later. Further, police don’t always accurately assess what has occurred when they’re dealing with an overdose. If you’re facing a criminal charge after an emergency intervention for an overdose, you should always get legal guidance to protect your rights.