Virginia, like states across the U.S., is dealing with an epidemic of drug overdose deaths – many involving opioids. That’s why we have a law that grants immunity from some drug-related criminal charges to those who get emergency help for themselves or someone else for a suspected overdose.
This law, which is similar to those in a number of other states, was enacted to help prevent people from leaving the scene of an overdose rather than getting help because they fear they’ll be arrested. Too often, people won’t even get help for themselves if they suffer an overdose because they assume they’ll be arrested.
What are the specifics of the law?
The law grants immunity from being charged for “unlawful purchase, possession, or consumption” of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia as well as alcohol. For immunity to be granted, a person has to do the following:
- Seek help “in good faith” for someone “experiencing an overdose”
- Identify themselves to authorities
- Remain at the scene until law enforcement arrives
Note that this doesn’t include pointing out that someone is overdosing in the middle of an arrest or police search.
A belief that an overdose is occurring is sufficient to get immunity
Of course, non-medical professionals can’t be expected to know for certain that someone (including themselves) is suffering an overdose. What if someone seeks help, but what they believed was an overdose was a panic attack or other medical issue?
Recently, a Virginia appeals court broadened the meaning of “experiencing an overdose” to include a belief that someone is overdosing. The case they were ruling on involved a man who was arrested for drug possession and DUI while driving himself to the hospital after smoking crack cocaine.
Of course, driving yourself (or someone else) to the hospital while under the influence is only going to further endanger everyone involved – and others. However, the court ruled that requiring someone to prove that they or someone else was suffering an overdose would “cause people to hesitate before seeking emergency care.”
If you believe you’ve been wrongfully arrested and charged for a drug-related crime after you sought emergency medical help for yourself or someone else, it’s wise to seek experienced legal guidance as soon as possible to help protect your rights.