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Feb 28 2014

“Good Samaritan” law offers protection for prevention of overdose deaths

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A drug overdose prevention law that took effect in April 2013 provides broad protection from criminal prosecution to any medical professional who prescribes the opioid-antagonist drug naloxone. Physicians are important partners in efforts to reduce deaths caused from unintentional drug overdose, which have reached epidemic proportions nationally. In North Carolina, more
than 1,100 people die annually from unintentional drug overdose.

The “Good Samaritan/Naloxone Access Law” explicitly states that any practitioner who prescribes naloxone in good faith to an individual at risk of opioid overdose, or to a friend or family member of such an individual, shall be immune from any civil or criminal liability. The Medical Board amended its position statement, Drug overdose prevention, in March 2013 in anticipation of the law’s passage to encourage licensees to participate with programs that seek to get naloxone into the hands of individuals who may be at risk of overdose. Such programs are becoming much more active in North Carolina as deaths from drug-related overdose continue to rise. Community Care of NC (CCNC) is leading one of the most significant efforts, including multiple trainings for clinicians across the state. In addition, CCNC has developed toolkits for use by prescribers in hospital and primary care settings that may be accessed online.

The Good Samaritan/Naloxone Access law also provides limited immunity to individuals who seek medical attention for a person who is experiencing symptoms of possible drug-related overdose. Specifically, the law states that individuals who call for help will not be prosecuted for felony or misdemeanor possession of heroin or cocaine, provided they are in possession of less than one gram of drugs. The law also grants limited immunity to individuals under the age of 21 who seek medical attention for a person suffering possible alcohol poisoning. It is believed that fear of criminal prosecution is the main reason individuals fail to seek help when a companion needs it.

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