Virginia House passes Good Samaritan drug overdose law

Law protects those who report an overdose from being charged with possession

The Virginia House of Delegates has unanimously passed a bill referred to as the Good Samaritan law, according to the Roanoke Times. The bill, which still has to be passed by the Senate in order to become law, would protect people from being charged with minor drug possession if they report a drug overdose to authorities. The law is designed to cut down on the number of fatal heroin overdoses in the commonwealth, which have nearly doubled in recent years.

Good Samaritan law

Under the bill, anyone who reports a drug overdose, whether involving themselves or another person, to police would be protected from being charged with minor drug possession. The bill is meant to encourage people to contact 911 if they witness a drug overdose without fearing that they will be charged with a crime themselves. Virginia would follow 20 other states that already have similar protections in place.

The bill, however, is limited. People who report an overdose would only be protected from being charged with a misdemeanor drug crime and not from drug felonies. Police and prosecutors would still be able to pursue charges such as drug trafficking against a person who reports an overdose.

Overdoses on the rise

As the News Journal recently reported, states throughout the eastern United States are grappling with a heroin epidemic that this new bill is designed to address. Although Virginia has fewer overall fatal heroin overdoses than neighboring states, the rates of overdoses is rising rapidly. Between 2011 and 2013, for example, Virginia's number of fatal heroin overdoses more than doubled. In 2014, there were an estimated 210 fatal heroin overdoses in the commonwealth.

Analysts say that the increased heroin use is partly due to authorities cracking down on prescription drug abuse. As law enforcement agencies have tackled illegal prescription drug use they have ended up driving up the street price of those drugs. As a result, many people who were formerly addicted to opiates like percocet and oxycodone are now turning to cheaper alternatives such as heroin.

Drug law defense

Authorities are taking a much tougher stance against drug offenses. Even the above bill, while protecting some people from being charged with a misdemeanor drug crime, is still severely limited in scope. Law enforcement and prosecutors still have broad powers to pursue drug charges against defendants.

As such, people who are faced with a drug charge need to reach out to a criminal defense attorney immediately. These charges are extremely serious and should be handled by an attorney who has the necessary knowledge and experience to better protect a defendant's rights during this challenging time.