As the opioid crisis continues to unfold across the country, South Carolina has seen a devastating increase of overdose-related hospitalizations and deaths over the past few years.
According to SC DHEC, deaths caused by overdoses numbered about 550 in 2016, showing an increase of nearly 20% in just two years.
As the United States begins to reckon with the long-term effects of prescription drug abuse and opioid addiction, we have also seen increasing situations where witnesses to an opioid overdose don’t call for help until it’s too late because they are worried about being charged with a crime themselves.
Can a friend or loved one safely call 911 for someone overdosing, without getting into legal trouble? Does South Carolina have a Good Samaritan law regarding drug overdoses?
Let’s take a look at how Good Samaritan laws in South Carolina work, what they cover, and what to do if you witness someone who has potentially overdosed.
In the Bible, the Parable of the Good Samaritan emphasizes the importance of helping one another, even if we risk personal discomfort or even injury to do so.
A man is robbed, beaten, and left to die alongside the road. Multiple people pass by him, including priests and other pillars of the community, unwilling to take time out of their day to help. They worry they may also be attacked, or are simply made uncomfortable by the man’s grave injuries. Finally, a Samaritan stops and renders life-saving aid, helping the man to heal and make it to safety.
The Good Samaritan does this despite not knowing the injured man, and despite the fact that he could have been attacked for his mercy.
Every state in the Union has passed at least some form of Good Samaritan law to protect those who render emergency assistance in certain situations from legal liability. South Carolina first passed their own variation on a Good Samaritan law in the early 1960’s.
The original law was primarily designed as a way to encourage witnesses and bystanders not to be too frightened to apply emergency aid if they came upon a car wreck or severely injured person:
“Any person, who in good faith gratuitously renders emergency care at the scene of an accident or emergency to the victim thereof, shall not be liable for any civil damages for any personal injury as a result of any act or omission by such person in rendering the emergency care or as a result of any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person, except acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or wilful or wanton misconduct.” (Section 15-1-310, Liability for emergency care rendered at scene of accident.)
The law as originally written was focused on a pretty narrow series of circumstances. Fortunately, as of June 2017, a Good Samaritan law to protect those who witness an overdose (or who overdose themselves) has been passed and signed into law in South Carolina.
Seek immediate emergency assistance. Thousands of law enforcement officers and Emergency Medical Technicians statewide have been trained in providing emergency assistance in the event of an overdose, as well as potentially lifesaving doses of the opioid antidote naloxone. The quicker they are able to get to the overdosing individual, the more effective their help will be.
The most recent changes to our Good Samaritan law provide limited immunity to those who witness an overdose. You can read a good breakdown of the new law here at The State.
In summary, the statute provides protections for those that seek emergency medical help for one suffering an overdose even if that person was also using, possessing, or provided the illegal substance if the person requesting help:
State legislators, members of DHEC, and many medical personnel are all hopeful that the passage of this law will help slow or even stall the rapid increase in overdose deaths in South Carolina.
Numbers are not yet available for 2017, but we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for new reports.
At Bluestein Attorneys, our Criminal Defense team has defended clients charged with prescription drug possession in the past. We believe every person, regardless of his or her background or circumstances, is entitled to every right and protection afforded by the law.
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