Colorado immunity law protects those who report drug, alcohol overdoses | VailDaily.com

Colorado immunity law protects those who report drug, alcohol overdoses

EAGLE COUNTY — Life before litigation, that's the goal of Colorado's Good Samaritan law, cops and prosecutors say.

The law provides immunity for persons who suffer or report an emergency drug or alcohol overdose event. The law seeks to reduce the number of preventable deaths resulting from accidental drug or alcohol overdoses.

'Thrilled not to prosecute'

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws or regulations to protect the general public from liability during rescues or rescue attempts. In some states, Good Samaritan laws only cover medically trained rescuers, while other states extend protection to the general public.

Colorado's Good Samaritan law extends to those reporting accidental drug or alcohol overdoses for someone else, or themselves.

"I am thrilled not to prosecute those cases because lives have been saved," said District Attorney Bruce Brown.

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Colorado's Good Samaritan law provides limited protections for possession of small amounts of drugs.

It does not exempt drug dealers, except if you're dealing in small amounts of marijuana.

Even if you're dealing with more serious drugs you should still call, Brown said.

"The more you help someone, the less likely that you'll be prosecuted," Brown said.

If you do the right thing, they'll do right by you, Brown said.

"We have several cases where people fell within the statute," Brown said. "In other cases, people lie to law enforcement when they arrive. You have to go all the way."

Please, just call

Colorado's law spells out who gets immunity, and the criteria for getting it.

If all those criteria were met, then the person who calls gets immunity. The drug user also gets immunity.

But if someone needs help, please don't mess around looking up the law. Just call for the help you need, said James van Beek, Eagle County sheriff.

"A person's life is more important," van Beek said. "If someone doesn't call because they're high and someone else loses their life, that's a tragedy. A life is more important than a bust, and that's what this law is designed to address."

Not that common

"I don't think it's that common. It might happen a dozen times a year in Eagle County," said Jim Fahrenholtz, a local defense attorney.

Occasionally it's not clear to law enforcement either. Fahrenholtz said one of his clients called on behalf of a friend, but this Good Samaritan landed in jail because he had an arrest warrant out for him. The officers weren't all that familiar with the law, Fahrenholtz said.

"It's a good law, but I don't think they're doing a good job educating the public about it," Fahrenholtz said. "You'll see a lot more people using it like it's supposed to be used if people are educated about it."

For years, drug overdoses were among the leading causes of accidental death in Colorado, says the state department of health. Researchers also learned that most people overdose in the presence of others. Those witnesses often do not call for emergency services. That same research finds that they don't call because they fear they'll be arrested and prosecuted for drug possession.

"Most people are too afraid to call the police or have the police come," Fahrenholtz said.

How often someone invokes Colorado's Good Samaritan law is tough to track.

"If a person has not been arrested it doesn't come across my desk," Brown said.

He said he sees one of these every eight months or so.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935.

Colorado 911 Good Samaritan Law, C.R.S. §18-1-711

The 911 Good Samaritan Law states that a person is immune from criminal prosecution for an offense when the person reports, in good faith, an emergency drug or alcohol overdose even to a law enforcement officer, to the 911 system, or to a medical provider. This same immunity applies to persons who remain at the scene of the event until a law enforcement officer or an emergency medical responder arrives, or if the person remains at the facilities of the medical provider until a law enforcement officer, emergency medical responder, or medical provider arrives. The immunity described above also extends to the person who suffered the emergency drug or alcohol overdose event.