Those who witness someone experiencing alcohol poisoning or a drug overdose are often hesitant to call for help. They fear being arrested and being prosecuted for drug crimes. But, Pennsylvania Act 139 provides immunity from prosecution under certain circumstances to those responding to and reporting overdoses. Additionally, first responders, friends or family members may administer naloxone, an opioid reversal medicine, to those experiencing opioid overdoses.
Act 139 originally pertained only to underage drinking violations. This Good Samaritan provision aims to reduce alcohol poisoning deaths by providing immunity to those who report that someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning. The Act was subsequently extended to include drug overdoses in response to the recent increase in deaths from opioids.
In 2015, there were over 3,000 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania alone, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. In fact, among people 25 to 64-years-old, drug overdoses cause more deaths than motor vehicle accidents. Act 139 allows first responders, as well as other members of the community, to lawfully administer naloxone to someone experiencing an overdose.
Naloxone is a medication that reverses the effects of opioids on the brain and respiratory system. According to the Act, first responders, acting with authorized health care professionals, may obtain, carry and administer naloxone when responding to an opioid overdose. The Good Samaritan provision encourages friends and loved ones to call for emergency medical services, if they witness someone experiencing an overdose. It provides them with certain criminal and civil protections, such as immunity from arrests and drug charges, if they report the overdose.
The public may be able to obtain naloxone and administer it to individuals experiencing an overdose, provided they complete training provided through the Department of Health. Therefore, friends and family of those addicted to heroin or opioids may prepare to administer naloxone, in the event of an overdose by undergoing this Department of Heath approved training. According to Pennsylvania's Good Samaritan laws, they may then assist in the prevention of fatal opioid overdoses without facing civil or criminal penalties for their good acts.