You shouldn’t be afraid to phone 911 if you witness an overdose: The benefits and limits of the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act

By the Good Samaritan

good samaritan drug overdose act

People should be more aware of the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act. There was a time when I didn’t know about it. I was just at home when one of my friends showed up out of nowhere. I was totally unaware that he showed up there just to get a shot ready for himself. I went to the washroom and when I came out he was laying down on the bed. It looked like he had just passed out. After a few minutes, he started making gurgling sounds in his throat. It was then that I realized the syringe was still in his arm and that he was choking on his puke. I had no naloxone, so I immediately called 911 and followed the steps they told me to until help arrived. 

Because it was an overdose, the police were alerted as well. They were the first to show up and when the paramedics arrived, the police actually kicked me out of my place and threatened to arrest me if I refused to make a statement. I didn’t know about the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act at this time. I told them they would have to arrest me, because I didn’t know what he had taken. I was in the washroom when he did what he did.  

They never arrested me, and I discovered later that they shouldn’t have treated me that way to begin with. Being dishonest and trying to scare people into getting statements is wrong. People need to be more aware of the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act so they won’t be scared to call for help or call 911 when someone is overdosing. It will save more lives.

There have been so many times that no one phones 911 when someone overdoses because the police always show up when it’s reported as an overdose. Or some people will phone 911 and then leave the scene right away for fear of arrest and because they are unaware of this law. This means the person overdosing has to wait until paramedics arrive before they can be helped.  

READ MORE: When the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act will protect you, and when it won’t

Police should also be reassuring people and letting them know about the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act instead of scaring people who are only trying to do the right thing to begin with. Police will sometimes say whatever they can to benefit their own work and investigations, but all that does is stop people from phoning 911 when someone needs help. The more people know about the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, the more people won’t be afraid to call 911 for help when someone they are with has overdosed.

“Police will sometimes say whatever they can to benefit their own work and investigations, but all that does is stop people from phoning 911 when someone needs help.”

The Act came into force in 2017. It provides people with protection from being charged with possession for small (personal) amounts of drugs when they call 911 for someone who is having an adverse drug reaction or overdose. This protects both the person who is overdosing, the person who calls for help, and others who are present at the scene when help arrives.

The Act does not protect against other criminal code violations such as trafficking, weapons, or stolen goods. It will also not protect people who have outstanding warrants.  

Unless you are in a bar, cinema, car, or the police say that you have broken the law, you have the right to refuse to answer any of their questions. In cases where you are in a bar, cinema, car, or police say you have broken the law, you must give your name, birthdate, and address (or show ID), but nothing more. If you are being detained, you have a right to know why you are being detained and the right to remain silent until you have had a chance to speak with a lawyer.  

About Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

Advocating for public health- and human rights-based drug policies grounded in evidence, social justice, and compassion. www.drugpolicy.ca