There’s no question that West Virginia has a serious drug overdose problem. In fact, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, our state has by far the highest drug overdose death rate of any state in the U.S. – far higher than even the state with the second highest rate, which is Tennessee.
In an effort to decrease the number of fatal overdoses, West Virginia enacted the Alcohol and Drug Prevention and Clemency Act. It’s also known as the “Good Samaritan Law.” The purpose of it is to provide immunity for relatively minor drug and alcohol-related charges for those who seek help for someone who appears to be suffering an overdose.
With overdoses, minutes can mean the difference between life and death. However, people are often afraid to call 911 or otherwise seek emergency help for someone (even for themselves) because they’re afraid of being arrested for their own drug use or possession or getting someone else arrested. Too often, people will panic and flee the scene – leaving someone to die.
What does the law say?
The law states that a person won’t be held criminally responsible for possession of a controlled substance, underage drinking or public intoxication if they seek medical help for what they reasonably believe is an overdose. To qualify for this immunity, the person must also remain with the overdose victim until help arrives and identify themselves to first responders if requested to do so.
The person who’s suffering the overdose is entitled to the same immunity. However, they are required to complete a court-approved substance use disorder (SUD) treatment program.
Note that the law doesn’t provide immunity for other criminal offenses if evidence of them is discovered by law enforcement when they responded to an overdose scene. This includes knowingly selling alcohol to a minor.
If you believe that you were wrongly charged with an offense that is covered under this law after you sought emergency medical help, it’s important to assert your rights. Even if you’re charged with an offense not covered by the law, it doesn’t hurt to make the case that it’s only because you did the right thing that the alleged offense was discovered. Whatever the case, it’s wise to have experienced legal guidance on your side.