Drug use is responsible for 97% of poisoning cases in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, poisoning is the second leading cause of injury death. Poisoning due to drug overdose accounts for more loss of life statewide than firearms, suicide or motor vehicle accidents.
In a vast majority of cases, there are witnesses to a drug overdose who could call for help. However, in many cases, these people are afraid to do so for fear of prosecution on drug charges. Wisconsin’s Good Samaritan law affords these people some protection from legal consequences.
What does Wisconsin’s Good Samaritan law say?
According to the Wisconsin State Legislature, the law protects any person in an emergency situation from liability for any attempt to render aid made in good faith. As it relates to opioid overdose, this means that any person, regardless of medical training, can administer medication that counteracts the effects of opioid drugs in the case of a suspected overdose.
How have amendments expanded the protection the law provides?
As originally drafted, the Good Samaritan law only provided protection from civil liability. A 2013 amendment made it possible for anyone who called 911 in response to someone else’s overdose to receive limited immunity from criminal prosecution. The purpose was to encourage those who witnessed an overdose to call for help without fear of facing drug charges themselves.
According to the Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse, fear of arrest and prosecution still prevents bystanders from summoning emergency help for an overdose in too many cases. This may be because the bystander does not want the person who overdosed to get in trouble. The Task Force has recommended that the person who overdoses, not just the one who reports it, should receive limited immunity as well.