Did you know that drug overdoses are the leading cause of death in Rhode Island? In 2014, overdose deaths in Rhode Island reached near crisis levels, with a startling 232 people dying from apparent overdoses. Of those overdose deaths, nearly 90% involved at least one opioid drug and/or opioid medication. Unfortunately, Rhode Island’s overdose problem did not improve much in 2015. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, 213 people died over apparent overdoes in 2015. Of those 213 overdose deaths, 191 were opioid related.

Elected officials and law enforcement personnel have increasingly recognized that preservation of life significantly outweighs the need for a drug arrest. As a result, the State of Rhode Island has enacted on “Good Samaritan law”

On Wednesday, January 27, 2016, Governor Raimondo signed into law the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act of 2016. An earlier version of the law was enacted in 2012, however, legislators allowed the law to expire on July 1, 2015. Following intense criticism, Rhode Island lawmakers quickly moved the proposed legislation through the House and Senate. The goal of the reenacted and expanded law is to encourage people to seek emergency medical attention for individuals suffering a drug overdose by offering the reporting party and patient legal protection from prosecution.

Under the reenacted law, anyone who reports or renders aid to a victim of a drug overdose is immune from prosecution for drug possession, even if drugs and/or drug paraphernalia are found on the scene. Likewise, the law protects anyone experiencing a drug overdose or other drug related emergency from prosecution for possession of a controlled substance or drug paraphilia. The law also expands protection to anyone who administers an opioid antagonist to an individual they believe is experiencing a drug overdose and does so with reasonable care. Additionally, the new law provides immunity to those who are currently on parole or probation and seek assistance for someone suffering from a drug overdose.

The law garnered strong support from the Rhode Island ACLU, criminal defense attorneys, the Rhode Island medical community, and recovering addicts. With the enactment of the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act, Rhode Island has created a situation where people can feel safe seeking medical intervention for someone in the throes of an overdose, without fear of criminal charges or incarceration. By encouraging people to call 911, Rhode Island hopes to see the number of overdose deaths reduced across the state.