Ohio's Good Samaritan Law: Loophole may allow drug users to slip through the cracks

Posted at 5:29 PM, Mar 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-10 16:25:03-05

In the middle of a snowballing heroin epidemic, Ohio's Good Samaritan Law is meant to save lives and give addicts a second chance.

The law, originally HB 110, was passed unanimously by the Ohio General Assembly and signed by Governor Kasich. It's been in effect since September.

The law allows someone to call 911 during a heroin overdose, without fear of arrest for anyone involved.

"People can use, overdose, have police come out, revive them, and just do that all over again with several departments and never face any charges?" News 5's Tara Molina asked South Euclid Police Chief, Kevin Nietert.

"Correct," he answered.

The offender gets instructions to seek treatment within 30 days and, per the law, they get two shots at immunity from prosecution. After two overdoses, the offender can be charged, if someone is keeping track. There's no state database for heroin overdoses.

News 5's Tara Molina took concerns to Crawford County Prosecutor, Matthew Crall. Crall confirmed the loophole: 

"There's no database I can go to as a prosecutor to find out if they've used up their two," he said.

Crall told News 5, because there's no database that spans counties, the two-overdose limit really can't be enforced.

"They can overdose in Crawford County, Richland County, Cuyahoga, Medina," he said.

Numbers under-reported?

Because the Good Samaritan Law makes an overdose a non-arrest offense, law enforcement doesn't always submit a report. Most police departments News 5 consulted are not issuing any kind of citation in an overdose call, and not everyone is keeping track of them.

"I think the numbers end up getting under-reported. Then it doesn't look like it's as bad as it is," Crall said.

"For this to really be implemented the way it's meant to be, what needs to happen in Ohio?" News 5 asked Crall.

"There needs to be a statewide database," he answered.

News 5 checked in with the legislators who sponsored the current law, we did not received responses by publication. 

About Good Samaritan Laws

To encourage people to seek out medical attention for an overdose or for follow-up care after naloxone has been administered, 37 states (including Ohio) and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of a Good Samaritan or 911 drug immunity law.