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Will I get in trouble for calling for help during an overdose?

As many people know, drug overdose deaths have continued to grow in Georgia as well as across the country. The Georgia legislature passed laws in 2014 to help save the lives of individuals who might experience a drug or alcohol overdose. However, these laws can only help save lives if everyone is aware of them.

One of the biggest concerns that most people have about calling for help when they are with someone who is experiencing a drug or alcohol overdose is the fear that they could get in trouble with the law. The Georgia 9-1-1 Medical Amnesty Law was designed to prevent this concern.

These laws allow a person to seek medical assistance for himself or someone else during a drug or alcohol overdose. These protections prevent the people seeking help, in good faith, and the person who is experiencing the overdose from being arrested, charged, or otherwise prosecuted for what is defined as a drug violation or other specific alcohol violations, so long as all the evidence of those drug violations or specific alcohol violations is obtained solely from seeking medical assistance. The law also prevents penalties for violations of permanent or temporary protective orders or restraining orders, as well as sanctions for violations of pretrial release conditions, conditions of probation, or conditions of parole based on a drug violation, as its defined in these laws, or specific alcohol violations.

The law defines what seeking medical assistance means. It also defines what drug violations are protected, as well as what specific alcohol violations are protected. These protections also exist even when a person is not actually experiencing an overdose, so long as the person who called for assistance believed the person was experiencing an overdose.

Seeking medical assistance means accessing or assisting access to 9-1-1, law enforcement, or poison control, and providing care to the person while awaiting the arrival of medical assistance. The easiest thing to do to be in compliance with this part of the law is to call 9-1-1 and to stay with the person and help them in any way possible, while waiting for help to arrive.

While not every drug or alcohol offense is protected, the most common ones are.

As defined in these laws, the drug violations that are protected from prosecution are:
1) possession of “a controlled substance if the aggregate weight, including any mixture, is less than four grams of a solid substance, less than one milliliter of liquid substance, or if the substance is placed onto a secondary medium with a combined weight of less than four grams;”
2) possession of less than one ounce of marijuana; and
3) possession or use of drug related objects.

The specific alcohol violations that cannot be prosecuted in these instances are:
1) where a person under the age of 21 purchases, attempts to purchase or otherwise possesses an alcoholic beverage;
2) where a person under the age of 21 misrepresents his or her age or identity (even with a false ID) for the purpose of illegally obtaining an alcoholic beverage; and
3) where a person acts as an agent to purchase or acquire an alcoholic beverage for a person under 21 years of age.

However, a person can still be prosecuted violating the provision of the law that says “[n]o person knowingly, directly or through another person, shall furnish, cause to be furnished, or permit any person in such person’s employ to furnish any alcoholic beverage to any person under 21 years of age.”

Even though there can be prosecutions in some circumstances, it is always better to save a life than to worry about whether one of those circumstances applies.

In addition to providing the protections that have already been outlined, the laws also allow more access to opioid antagonists, which are medications that can be used to stop an opioid overdose. It provides opportunities for more law enforcement officers and first responders to have access to these medications. Additionally, these laws allow a doctor to prescribe an opioid antagonist, such as Narcan (naloxone), to family members, friends, or other persons in a position to assist a person at risk of experiencing an opioid related overdose. This means that friends and family members of individuals who are at risk of experiencing an opioid overdose can take steps to be prescribed the tools needed to help save their loved one’s life, in the event of an overdose.

As with all laws, they can change over time and there are more nuances than can be written in this article, but this is general overview of the laws that typically come up in relation to the Georgia 9-1-1 Medical Amnesty Law.