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Lawmakers Loosen Requirements Of 'Good Samaritan' Overdose Law

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A bill passed by the General Assembly removes the requirement that someone help investigators when reporting an overdose.

Under the 2015 'Good Samaritan' law, someone can report a drug overdose without fear that they will be arrested for also taking illegal drugs. The law requires them to" substantially cooperate with any law enforcement investigation." The 2019 bill, introduced by Senator Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, removes that requirement. 

Ann McGhee, whose daughter Dillon died of an overdose in 2017, told lawmakers last month that the change could have saved her daughter’s life and it will hopefully encourage more people to report. 

“Everyday, I have to live with the knowledge that another person who she was with when she started struggling could have saved her life if they had just called 9-1-1," McGhee said. “But their fear was that they would be arrested and convicted for the drugs that were present. So instead of calling 9-1-1, they shoved my daughter in a closet and she was left there to die while the police were outside.”

The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously, but its journey to the Governor's desk wasn't entirely straightforward. The bill passed through a House Courts of Justice subcommittee that was less than friendly. Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, and Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, expressed concerns that removing the cooperation requirement would make it more difficult for law enforcement to trace the drugs back to their source.

But McDougle, who is a former prosecutor, argued that there is a need to prioritize life over prosecution in light of the devastation caused by the opioid crisis. 

"We need to look at this as a real option for people that are in an overdose situation and make sure that we are saving the individual first," McDougle said.

The “Good Samaritan” law still requires the person reporting an overdose to identify themselves and wait for law enforcement to arrive on the scene. The law applies to people possessing or taking drugs but does not provide immunity to dealers.

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