Every year, more Coloradans die from accidental drug overdoses than they do from traffic accidents, and every this public health crisis continues to get worse. According to the Colorado Health Institute, the state’s rate of drug overdose deaths climbed 68 percent between 2002 and 2014 and is significantly higher than the national average. Over 900 Coloradans died from overdoses in 2014 alone.
These deaths are caused by “street” drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine as well as by prescription drugs, primarily opioid painkillers such as Oxycontin.
When people do overdose, they often can be saved with immediate medical attention. Statistics show that most ODs happen in the presence of other people who could theoretically call 911 or take the individual to an emergency room to get the help that could save their life. However, individuals who are overdosing and the folks around them often don’t seek medical help because they are afraid they will get charged with a drug crime if they do so. If you are ever charged with a drug crime, be sure to contact a drug defense attorney immediately.
Colorado’s “Good Samaritan” Law
In order to save these lives, every state including Colorado has passed “Good Samaritan” laws that provides immunity from prosecution for some crimes when a person seeks medical help for themselves or others who are overdosing.
Specifically, C.R.S. Section 18-1-711 shields a person from arrest and prosecution for certain specified drug crimes if:
- The person reports in good faith an emergency drug or alcohol overdose event to a law enforcement officer, to the 911 system, or to a medical provider;
- The person remains at the scene of the event until a law enforcement officer or an emergency medical responder arrives or the person remains at the facilities of the medical provider until a law enforcement officer arrives;
- The person identifies himself or herself to, and cooperates with, the law enforcement officer, emergency medical responder, or medical provider; and
- The offense arises from the same course of events from which the emergency drug or alcohol overdose event arose.
Immunity from Specified Crimes Only
If the person overdosing or their friend satisfies all of the foregoing conditions when they seek help, they cannot be arrested or prosecuted for any of the following criminal offenses:
- Unlawful possession of a controlled substance;
- Unlawful use of a controlled substance;
- Unlawful possession of two ounces or less of marijuana, or more than two ounces of marijuana but no more than six ounces of marijuana, or more than six ounces of marijuana but no more than twelve ounces of marijuana, or three ounces or less of marijuana concentrate;
- Open and public display, consumption, or use of less than two ounces of marijuana;
- Transferring or dispensing two ounces or less of marijuana from one person to another for no consideration
- Use or possession of synthetic cannabinoids or salvia divinorum
- Possession of drug paraphernalia, as described in section 18-18-428; and
- Underage possession or consumption of alcohol, marijuana, or marijuana paraphernalia.
Note that most of the offenses for which immunity is available are related to possession or use of controlled substances. This means that “Good Samaritans” who call for help can still be prosecuted for every other drug crime on the books – such as trafficking, possession with intent to distribute, manufacturing, etc. – along with any other criminal offense such as DUI.
Furthermore, prosecutors can obtain or use evidence obtained from a report, recording, or any other statement provided after the incident to seek a conviction for any non-immune offense. This means that any statements or admissions made to the police or first responders can be used against you.
If you or a friend is overdosing, you should call 911 or otherwise seek immediate medical help, even if you are worried that you may face criminal charges as a result. You may in fact be immune from prosecution under Colorado law. But if you are arrested and charged with a Colorado drug crime or other offense, you should contact an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case and explore your options.
If you are experiencing drug addiction or are worried about one of your friends, please visit this link for resources that can help you overcome your addiction and get started on your healthy new life.