A Need for Change: Why North Carolina’s Good Samaritan Law Discourages Call for Help Amidst State’s Overdose Crisis

By on April 12, 2023

This op-ed piece was submitted to the Voice by the Saving Lives Task Force.

In 2013, North Carolina enacted a Good Samaritan Law to encourage people to call 911 in a drug- or alcohol-related medical emergency. Today, in the midst of the worst opioid epidemic our nation has ever seen, we are calling on legislators to update our Good Samaritan Law to ensure it meets the needs of our current reality.

What is that reality? In 2021, more than 70,000 people died of fentanyl overdose across the country. Just last year, we lost 3,696 North Carolinians to overdose––10 people per day, and a 16% increase from the year before. Fentanyl rose to become the number two drug found in evidence tested at the State Crime Lab. North Carolina is suffering—so much so that Attorney General Josh Stein is pushing for special units to help control the overdose deaths and trafficking of fentanyl and other opiates.

While this crisis feels out of control, there are some things we can do to help mitigate the damage and instill some hope. We have to turn the tide. Let’s start with something we can easily fix—changing some wording.

North Carolina’s current Good Samaritan law provides only limited protection to people seeking medical help during an overdose or who are experiencing an overdose themselves. We must broaden our law to save lives. A study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that Good Samaritan laws have the potential to significantly lower overdose death rates. While our current law has the right intention, it is one of the most limited in the country in terms of protection. We have got to eliminate the fear of calling through broader protection to save lives.

Our current Good Samaritan Law states that: Only the caller and the person possibly overdosing are protected. A protected person has immunity for a limited set of substances at limited weights, including heroin and cocaine but not fentanyl and methamphetamine. A protected person cannot be prosecuted (note: this does not include protection from being arrested or charged.) The law does not cover protecting students calling Campus Security.

The suggestions provided here are put forth by members of the Saving Lives Task Force to help guide legislators in their efforts to expand the law. We, as public health workers and peers with lived experience, who work directly in the trenches with our community members suffering with substance use disorder in Dare County, support the urgent request for these changes.

We propose the following revisions:

  • Everyone at the scene is protected.
  • A protected person has immunity from possession charges of any drug with no exceptions at limited weight.
  • A protected person cannot be arrested, charged or prosecuted.
  • Anyone at the scene can call for another person who is possibly overdosing. The person overdosing can also call for themselves and be protected.
  • Students are protected when calling Campus Security.

We urge lawmakers to act swiftly and urgently to expand protective measures in the Good Samaritan Law to help end the devastation this epidemic has caused to our families and communities. With overdose deaths at an all-time high, people need to feel safe calling 911 so they don’t hesitate before seeking help.

Call your representatives and tell them why this is important–– you wouldn’t want someone to hesitate if it was your life hanging in the balance.

US House Representative: Greg Murphy, (252) 230-3549,  https://murphy.house.gov/

NC House: Keith Kidwell, 919-733-5881, Keith.Kidwell@ncleg.gov

NC Senate: Norman W. Sanderson, (919) 733-5706Norman.Sanderson@ncleg.gov

To learn more about the Saving Lives Task Force visit www.savinglivesobx.com

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