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Can I be Held Responsible for a Friend’s Drug Overdose?

Drug Detox , Drug Rehab Alexa Iocco | April 20, 2022

Can I be Held Responsible for a Friend's Drug Overdose Resurgence Behavioral Health

What to do if Someone Has an Overdose

When it comes to drug use, an overdose is always a possibility. Fentanyl is the drug most related to overdoses in the United States. It is a drug that, amongst other things, causes breathing to slow down or even stop, a condition called hypoxia that can cause brain damage, coma, and overdose death if not treated immediately by a medical professional.

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Some of the signs of an overdose include:

  • Not breathing at all or breathing very shallowly or slowly
  • Lips and fingertips turning blue or purple on a lighter-skinned person, or the inside of the lips turning blue or purple on a darker-skinned person
  • The face turns pale and clammy
  • They have small, constricted, pinpoint pupils
  • They are unable to speak
  • Their pulse may be weak or slow
  • Their body may become limp or “on the nod”
  • They may begin snoring loudly or making an unusual gurgling sound
  • They are unresponsive, can’t be woken up, and don’t respond to pain

Accidental overdose can easily happen. If you suspect an acquaintance is overdosing or if a friend overdoses, you should:

  • Call 911 immediately, and ask for an ambulance
  • Shake the person, shout at them, and keep them conscious
  • Provide naloxone (Narcan) if you have it available to you
  • Turn the person on their side to prevent them from choking
  • Stay with the person until the ambulance arrives

Good Samaritan Laws for Reporting Overdose 

When using drugs with a person who overdoses, the question may pop up in your mind about whether you can get in trouble if you call for help. The unfortunate reality is that rumors and stories about calling 911 and being arrested for possession of substances and paraphernalia create fear around asking for help in these critical situations. People become afraid to ask for help in life-or-death situations, resulting in unnecessary deaths due to opioid overdose.

Good Samaritan Laws have been created for this exact situation, to encourage people to do the right thing and call for emergency assistance if they witness or experience a drug overdose, to prevent overdose death. Law enforcement in these parts of the US will provide individuals, even those on drugs, temporary immunity if they call to report a drug overdose.

Depending on what state you are in, these laws may provide protections such as:

  1. Immunity from arrest, charge, and/or prosecution for crimes related to possession of controlled substances (this will likely not be true of crimes related to sale, distribution, and trafficking for drug dealers)
  2. Immunity from arrest, charge, and/or prosecution for crimes related to drug paraphernalia possession, (some states do not consider paraphernalia possession to be a crime)
  3. Immunity from being considered in violation of parole, restraining order, probation, pre-trial conditions, etc.
  4. Immunity from other controlled substance-related crimes
  5. Protection from civil forfeiture, so law enforcement cannot take assets as a person suspected of illegal activity

When it comes to Good Samaritan Laws, the idea is to protect victims of heroin overdoses and those who call for help from some of the potential consequences, negative attention, and stigma they may face from emergency medical personnel and law enforcement officers. Even if these immunities do not apply in your state, there is not any guarantee that you will face charges if you do the right thing and call for medical attention. Providing aid or seeking help may lessen the severity of your culpability in criminal activities.

What Else You Need to Know About Reporting an Overdose

Studies have suggested that people aged 18 to 32 who use drugs but do not have a history of heroin use may not fully know about Good Samaritan Laws or do not trust the local authorities to follow them.

It is important to learn the laws specific to your state and know your rights. In most states, if you are in possession of drugs for your own personal use or are high when authorities arrive, you will not be arrested or charged with a crime.

Some of the conditions to these Good Samaritan Laws require that:

  1. The person who called 911 must remain at the scene of the overdose
  2. They must fully cooperate with law enforcement
  3. They must provide their legal name
  4. They may need to submit to a drug test and possibly enter a drug addiction treatment program to receive immunity from criminal charges
  5. They must provide all relevant medical information they know that is related to the overdose
  6. In some states, there is a limit to the number of people who may receive immunity

Results may differ if you are a drug dealer or the person who has provided the drugs to the overdosing person, as criminal charges for the injury or death of the person may be applied to you, including manslaughter or second-degree murder. If you fear you may be charged with a drug crime or spend time with someone who sells drugs, you should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Administering Naloxone in the Event of an Overdose

Naloxone (Narcan, Evzio) is a medication that is used to reverse the effects of opioid drugs on the opioid receptors in the body. It is an “opioid agonist”, meaning it blocks the opioid drugs and can restore normal breathing within minutes. It is a relatively safe drug and giving it to a person who is unconscious and not overdosing from opioids will not cause them harm (it will also not reverse a non-opioid overdose). Anybody with an opioid use disorder, or those who know people who use opioid drugs should carry naloxone as an added layer of protection against overdose.

Death due to overdose is not usually something that happens in seconds, and when it comes to opioids, it happens gradually, taking a few minutes to a few hours. This means you can act immediately and help somebody who is overdosing. The steps to follow when you find a person who is overdosing are:

1. Call 911 or emergency services and ask for an ambulance, explain the victim is not breathing and is not responsive, and give your exact location. Stick to what you see, such as “they are turning blue”, which will make the call a priority.

2. Yell their name at them to try and wake them up by telling them something they may not want to hear like “I am calling 911”, if this does not work, administer a hard sternum rub (rub your knuckles into their sternum – the middle part of the chest between the ribs) or rub your knuckles on their upper lip to cause pain to wake them up

3. Administer naloxone (Narcan) at a rate of one dose every two to five minutes. More than one dose may be required when strong opioids like fentanyl are involved

4. Provide rescue breathing while the naloxone takes effect. Tilt the chin up to open the airway, check for obstructions in the mouth, plug their nose with one hand and give 2 even, regular-sized breaths, enough to make their chest rise. Continue giving one breath every 5 seconds.

5. When the person starts to breathe on their own, roll them into a recovery position on their side (bend their knee and turn their face to the side) – this will keep the airway clear

6. When the paramedics arrive, give all the information you know about what drugs the victim has used, and whether naloxone has been given

There are two types of naloxone that you may have on hand. These are:

Injectable naloxone – Draw up the entire vial and inject it straight into a large muscle, like the thigh, or upper outer quadrant of the butt, or shoulder muscle, all at once

Nasal spray naloxone – Put the nasal device all the way up into one nostril and click the plunger. Ensure the device is fully inside the nasal cavity, as the medication will absorb into the bloodstream through the sinuses.

Naloxone is not a magical cure, and even though it may stop the overdose from occurring there may be other health problems going on, and other issues like heart problems or pneumonia may set in.

Some drugs like fentanyl can also last longer than a dose of naloxone lasts in the body (30 to 90 minutes), and some people may come after the naloxone dose feeling withdrawal symptoms and want to immediately use again, which can result in another overdose. Staying with them to encourage them to wait before using the drugs again and having them checked by a medical professional is the safest thing to do following an overdose.

How To Prevent a Drug Overdose

Drug overdoses usually occur when a person:

  • Uses opioids alone
  • Uses drugs in a way they are not used to (injecting instead of swallowing)
  • Relapses after a period of not using drugs, as they will have a much lower tolerance
  • Switches to a stronger opioid than they are used to or uses more than usual
  • Mixes drugs with alcohol, prescription medications, etc.
  • Changes their drug supplier

To prevent overdose, drug users should:

  • Never use drugs alone
  • Never mix drugs and alcohol
  • Start low and go slow after a period of cutting back or if you are using a new substance or method

The most effective way to prevent drug overdose is to stop using drugs for good. This is best achieved through an integrated detox and rehab program, with continued aftercare treatments and a support network that will keep you connected to the help you need when times are tough.

Drug Addiction Treatment at Resurgence

At Resurgence treatment center, we offer a safe and effective medically assisted treatment (MAT) detox program that will help you stop using drugs without suffering needlessly, using a combination of a safe taper, prescription medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, behavioral therapy, counseling and dual diagnosis treatment for a whole-patient approach to treatment, beginning at day one.

This is followed by a customized rehabilitation program that will help you get to the root of your addiction, deal with any physical and mental health issues present including PTSD and get you on the road to recovery armed with new recovery skills and tools that will last you a lifetime. We also offer:

  • Dual diagnosis programs to treat PTSD and co-occurring mental health issues
  • Nutrition and exercise treatment plan
  • Life skills coaching and vocational skills training
  • Multiple types of therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy, experiential therapy, group therapy, rational emotive behavioral therapy, talk therapy, individual therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and family therapy
  • Educational programs about substance abuse
  • 12-Step and SMART recovery programs

Our inpatient rehab, partial hospitalization program, an intensive outpatient rehab program options can be tailored to suit your unique needs, and our peer groups and alumni network, along with referrals to sober living homes, will ensure you never feel alone in your recovery. To learn more about our detox and rehabilitation programs, and how we can help you regain control and live a drug-free life, contact us at Resurgence today.

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