Legalese – Overdose Help

More than once, someone was in danger of dying of a drug overdose and didn’t seek medical attention because they feared prosecution more than they feared dying.  Or maybe the person overdosing wasn’t the person making the decision – maybe it was the strung-out-but-not-overdosed person who was irrational (at best) having to make a quick decision about whether or not to risk calling 9-1-1 and getting arrested or having their friend die. 

Too many people died.

As a result, in 2014, the Georgia General Assembly passed O.C.G.A. §16-13-5.  In a nutshell, 16-13-5 says that you can’t be prosecuted if you seek medical assistance or call 9-1-1 for an overdose.

Of course, being the law, nothing is quite that simple. 

You can’t get away with having a tractor-trailer full of drugs.  There is a ‘personal use’ limit to it.  That is, four grams of a solid substance, one milliliter of a liquid substance, or four grams if the substance if placed into a secondary medium.  If you’re talking about marijuana, it’s less than one ounce.  Your bongs and pipes and syringes are also covered.  

If, in good faith, you think you or someone you are with is overdosing, and you call 9-1-1, poison control, or law enforcement, and you provide care to the overdosing person, you can’t be arrested if the evidence for the arrest comes solely from you seeking the treatment. 

Let’s break that down a little bit by example.  Let’s say you come home. Your cousin Bobby is in the living room apparently OD’ing on heroin. You call 9-1-1 and minister to Bobby in the living room until the police and paramedics arrive.  When they do, you are holding the syringe that Bobby used to inject himself and crying, “Bobby!  Why would you do this to yourself?”  The police cannot arrest Bobby or you for possession of heroin, even though you both possessed it because they would not have known about the heroin but for your 9-1-1 call to try to save Bobby’s life.

Here’s another scenario: you are walking home and you see your cousin Bobby in the park about to get into a fight with Tommy.  You know Tommy is no good, so you see what you can do to help.  Bobby sits down on a park bench and injects himself with heroin.  He stands up and takes a swing at Tommy.  You see two officers approaching.  You grab the syringe and yell, “Bobby!  Why would you do this to yourself?”  Then “Officers!  Did you see that?” The officers are now running towards the crowd, and Bobby has fallen down.  The officers radio for paramedics.  In this scenario you can be arrested for possession of heroin, as can Bobby (though you may or may not have a defense) because the officers were in the park anyway and didn’t see the heroin solely because you summoned them to aid in the overdose.  You were as much trying to get the officers to stop the fight as deal with the OD, since you started yelling for them before Bobby showed symptoms. 

Of course, the best thing to do is to stay away from drugs.  But don’t hesitate to get help for someone who is in danger of dying or doing permanent bodily damage to themselves from an overdose.  The law will protect you for asking for help.   

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice. It is being offered for informational purposes only.

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