Debra Cross, director of operations for Provoking Hope, an addiction recovery center in McMinnville, Ore., displays an emergency kit used to treat opioid overdose as she stands inside an ambulance converted into a mobile needle-exchange unit on Dec. 9, 2021. Credit: Andrew Selsky / AP

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Kessie Silas, Jamie Kane, Andy Bradley, and Alli O’Neil are social work graduate students at the University of Maine.

Maine is facing an opioid epidemic and we all have the power to decrease the number of deaths from overdoses by expanding our Good Samaritan Law. The Good Samaritan Law in Maine, as it currently stands, does not adequately protect those who overdose or those who seek help when they are witness to an overdose.

Our Good Samaritan Law currently protects the person overdosing and the person who called 911 from arrest or prosecution from a small number of substance-related crimes and probation violations. Anybody else who is responding to the scene as a good Samaritan is responsible for the actions that they take in good faith to help and everybody at the scene can be searched by police.

The opioid epidemic has had a devastating effect on the people and communities of Maine. Every year more people in our state become the victims of unintentional opioid overdoses, including 636 people in 2021 alone. To combat this crisis the state has been on the forefront of implementing an urgent response, including the distribution of naloxone.

A bill currently before the Legislature will also strengthen protections for bystanders who administer a potentially lifesaving dose of naloxone.

We appreciate the role of Maine’s law enforcement officers in conducting investigations into criminal activity and in making arrests to protect the common welfare and it is not our object, nor is it the object of this bill, to unnecessarily hamper the efforts of Maine’s law enforcement. But, in this instance, we feel that it is vital, to protect the life of an overdose victim, that we enact this legislation so that fewer people will die simply for bystanders’ fear of arrest. This act does not grant any immunity to the perpetrators of violent crimes, and we are confident that Maine law enforcement will be able to find and arrest drug traffickers under other circumstances.

Why is it that Maine lags behind so many other states with its lackluster Good Samaritan Law? The history isn’t as important as the current potential of LD 1862. If this bill is passed as it currently stands, it would expand who receives protection from arrest or prosecution unless there is an excluded crime involved. The expanded protection would cover those who administer naloxone or seek medical help, anybody at the location where the overdose occurs, and would continue to protect the overdose survivor.

Overdose deaths are preventable deaths. A person witnessing an overdose should not have to consider the repercussions of calling 911 when seeking life-saving support from emergency services. The preservation of life should be our first duty.

As the grim toll of the opioid epidemic continues to multiply it is essential that we use every tool at our disposal, not to arrest drug users, but to save lives. No one should die because of the fear of arrest by bystanders who could call emergency services or administer naloxone. It is within our power to create change and start to get ahead of the problem rather than continually running behind it.