Call 911 Good Samaritan Policies
Call 911 Good Samaritan Policies (also known as Medical Amnesty Policies) are life-saving measures that enable people to make responsible decisions by shielding them from punishment when they call for medical help during an emergency relating to alcohol or other drugs. Since the threat of punitive policies can often cause hesitation during confusing and stressful party situations, the existence of a Call 911 Good Samaritan Policy is essential to ensuring that people are able to stay alive and receive help when they are in trouble.
According to SSDP’s research, there are more than 240 colleges and universities with some form of a 911 Good Samaritan Policy on the books. More than half of these policies cover situations involving all substances, while just under half cover only those involving alcohol.
At least 11*** states have enacted some form of Good Samaritan legislation. Five states grant limited immunity from prosecution for possession of controlled substances for people who seek or obtain medical assistance during an overdose, including New Mexico (2007), Washington (2010), New York Connecticut (2011), and Illinois (2012). Four other states extend limited immunity with regard to underage alcohol consumption and possession, including Colorado (2005), New Jersey (2009), Texas and Pennsylvania (2011). New Mexico and Washington, in addition to Alaska (2008), Maryland (2009), and Utah (2010), also consider the seeking of medical assistance during an alcohol or other drug-related overdose a mitigating factor at sentencing for certain offenses. A number of other states are considering Good Samaritan laws, including Rhode Island, Michigan, Massachusetts, California, Hawaii, and Florida.
Since Students for Sensible Drug Policy launched its Campus Change Campaign in 2005, we have played an integral role in the growing trend of Call 911 Good Samaritan Policies across the country. SSDP chapters that have recently worked with their schools to pass the policies include the College of William & Mary, Franklin Pierce University, University of Connecticut, University of Maryland, Ithaca College, Columbia University and University of Georgia.
*** See New Mexico Statute 30-31-27.1 (Overdose prevention; limited immunity); See Revised Code of Washington 69.50.315 (Medical assistance – Drug-related overdose – Naloxone – Prosecution for possession); See Laws of New York Section 220.78 (Witness or Victim of Drug or Alcohol Overdose); See Connecticut Public Act No. 11-210 (House Bill No. 6554); See Colorado Revised Statute Title 18 – Article 13 – Section 122; See New Jersey Statute 2C:33-15, s. 1(f); See Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, Section 106.04(e); See Pennsylvania Statute Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) – Section 6308(f) (Exception for Person Seeking Medical Attention for Another); See Alaska Statute Section 12.55.155(d)(19); See Maryland Statute – Criminal Procedure – Section 1-210; See Utah Code Title 32B-Chapter 4-Section 210.
- Good Samaritan Policies have been proven to be effective at saving lives. A 2006 study in the International Journal of Drug Policy found that emergency calls increased after Cornell University’s Good Samaritan Policy was enacted in 2002, although alcohol abuse rates have remained relatively constant.
- Good Samaritan Policies are not a violation of federal law. The Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act explicitly states that “a disciplinary sanction may include the completion of an appropriate rehabilitation program.” Follow-up evaluations and counseling are fundamental components of any Good Samaritan Policy. The key is that these followups be nonpunitive so that they don’t serve as a deterrent to calling for help.
- Good Samaritan Policies shouldn’t be viewed as “get out of jail free cards” or rewards for binge drinking. Rather, they provide students with the clarity they need in order to make responsible, life-saving decisions during confusing and stressful party situations. Every minute spent worrying about judicial consequences is another minute it will take for help to arrive. That minute can very literally be the difference between life and death.
- Campus administrators are correct in wanting to send the right message. And a Good Samaritan Policy would send the message that campus officials care more about keeping students alive than punishing them. A message against the dangers of binge drinking or drug abuse should never have to come in the form of a student’s obituary.
- More than half of the schools with Good Samaritan Policies provide coverage for situations involving all drugs, not just alcohol. This is logical, since marijuana is often involved in party situations and can serve as a deterrent to calling for help, whether or not the drug was involved in the overdose. We should also remember that the abuse of other illegal drugs and prescription medications can have dire consequences, which we should seek to mitigate by enacting all-inclusive Good Samaritan Policies.
- The primary intention of a Good Samaritan Policy isn’t to reward those who make the decision to call for help when a friend is in trouble. Rather, the policy enables and empowers students to make that decision when they would otherwise hesitate. It is a preemptive policy that promotes responsible behavior rather than a reactive policy that rewards responsible behavior after the fact.
- Good Samaritan Policies are only effective if they guarantee amnesty in writing (usually in the student code of conduct) and the policy is widely publicized. If a school has the unwritten practice of excusing students from punitive consequences during emergency situations, but students don’t know about it, then it is like having no such policy at all.
- In 2008, drug overdoses caused 36,450 deaths in the United States. Drug overdose is now second only to motor vehicle crashes among the leading causes of unintentional injury deaths.
Centers for Disease Control. (2011). Vital Signs: Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers – United States, 1999-2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 60, 1487-1492.
- Rates of hospitalizations for alcohol overdoses, drug overdoses, and their combination all increased from 1999 to 2008 among 18- to 24-year-olds. More specifically, hospitalization rates for alcohol overdoses alone increased 25%, reaching 29,412 cases in 2008. Hospitalization rates for drug overdoses alone increased 55% (totaling 113,907 cases in 2008) and hospitalization rates for combined alcohol and drug overdoses increased 76% (with 29,202 cases in 2008).
White, A. M., Hingson, R. W., Pan, I., & Yi, H. (2011). Hospitalizations for Alcohol and Drug Overdoses in Young Adults Ages 18-24 in the United States, 1999-2008: Results from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 72, 774–786.
- When someone in America overdoses, a call for help occurs less than 50% of the time.
Tobin, K. E., Davey, M. A., & Latkin, C. A. (2005). Calling Emergency Medical Services During Drug Overdose: An Examination of Individual, Social, and Setting Correlates. Addiction, 100(3), 397-404; Baca, C. T., & Grant, K. J. (2007). What Heroin Users Tell Us About Overdose. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 26(4), 63-68; Sherman, S. G., Gann, D. S., Scott, G., et al. (2008). A Qualitative Study of Overdose Responses Among Chicago IDUs. Harm Reduction Journal, 5(1), 2; Smart, A. T. & Porucznik, C. (n. d.). Drug Overdose Prevention and Education Study. Retrieved from www.dsamh.utah.gov/docs/dope_u_of_uschool_20060621.pdf; Tracy, M., Piper, T. M., Ompad, D., et al. (2005). Circumstances of Witnessed Drug Overdose in New York City: Implications for Intervention. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 79, 181-190.
- Fear of police involvement is the most common reason for not calling 911 during an overdose.
Seal, K. H., Downing, M., Kral, A. H., et al. (2003). Attitudes about prescribing take-home naloxone to injection drug users for the management of heroin overdose: A survey of street-recruited injectors in the San Francisco Bay Area. Journal of Urban Health, 80(2), 291-301; Tracy, M., Piper, T. M., Ompad, D., et al. (2005). Circumstances of witnessed drug overdose in New York City: Implications for intervention. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 79, 181-190; Baca, C. T., & Grant, K. J. (2007). What heroin users tell us about overdose. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 26(4), 63-68; Sherman, S. G., Gann, D. S., Scott, G., et al. (2008). A qualitative study of overdose responses among Chicago IDUs. Harm Reduction Journal, 5(1), 2.
- Students who are aware that a medical amnesty policy is in effect are 2.5 times more likely than students who expect to face disciplinary actions to call for help when witnessing the signs of alcohol poisoning.
Oster-Aaland, L., Thompson, K., & Eighmy, M. (2011). The Impact of an Online Educational Video and a Medical Amnesty Policy on College Students’ Intentions to Seek Help in the Presence of Alcohol Poisoning Symptoms. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(2), 147-164.
- After Cornell University implemented a Medical Amnesty Protocol, students were less likely to report fear of getting an intoxicated student in trouble as a barrier to calling for help and alcohol-related calls for assistance to emergency medical services increased.
Lewis, D. K. & Marchell, T. C. (2006). Safety First: A Medical Amnesty Approach to Alcohol Poisoning at a U.S. University. International Journal of Drug Policy, 17, 329-338.
- A survey of 355 opiate users found that once they became aware of Washington’s Good Samaritan law, 88% indicated that they were more likely to call 911 during future overdoses.
Banta-Green, C. J., Kuszler, P. C., Coffin, P. O., Schoeppe, J. A. (2011). Washington’s 911 Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Law – Initial Evaluation Results. Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, University of Washington. Available at http://adai.uw.edu/pubs/infobriefs/ADAI-IB-2011-05.pdf.