New Michigan law may protect those reporting prescription drug overdoses

A ‘Good Samaritan’ law enacted recently in Michigan may protect minors who report prescription drug overdoses from related drug possession charges.

In recent years, prescription drug abuse has become a devastating epidemic in Kalamazoo and other parts of Michigan. From 2003 to 2013, the proportion of people under age 20 who described prescription drugs as the primary substance they abuse increased a shocking 207 percent in the state, according to the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services. Among adults, reported rates of primary prescription drug abuse rose 238 percent over the same period.

Each day, prescription drug overdoses claim the lives of 144 people across the U.S., according to Michigan Live. Tragically, in some cases, preventable deaths may occur because victims or other people who are present during an overdose fear facing prescription drug possession charges if they seek help. Fortunately, a new Michigan law could help prevent these losses by offering limited protection from prosecution to people who pursue medical assistance in these situations.

Exemptions for emergencies

The state's "Good Samaritan" law, which became effective in March, provides protection to minors who alert authorities to potential prescription drug overdoses. The law applies to anyone under age 21 who seeks medical attention while experiencing a prescription drug overdose or a similar medical emergency. The law also protects minors who secure or request medical attention on behalf of someone else.

The law can shield these individuals from drug possession charges, but it has a few important limitations. Per the bill text, minors are only exempt from prosecution if they possess the substance in quantities that are reasonable for personal use. People who possess large enough amounts of a narcotic to be charged with prescription drug trafficking are not protected from prosecution. Furthermore, this law doesn't preclude law enforcement authorities from charging an overdose victim or a Good Samaritan with other criminal offenses.

Potential impacts

Besides reducing deaths from prescription drug overdoses, this law may help protect minors from various serious impacts of drug-related criminal charges. In Michigan, the unlawful possession of a prescription drug is a misdemeanor that is punishable with up to one year of incarceration. Convicted offenders may additionally face fines of as much as $1,000.

A misdemeanor conviction can also bring various harmful long-term ramifications, as Time magazine notes. Across the country, state and federal laws impose over 45,000 potential consequences on people who have been convicted of misdemeanors. These may limit a person's ability to secure professional licenses, housing, federal loans and more. Michigan's new law may help shield minors who acted in good faith from these serious lingering consequences.

Addressing drug-related charges

Although this law represents a positive step, its limited scope may still leave many people in Michigan facing charges of prescription drug possession or related offenses. Given the possible consequences of a conviction, anyone who has been accused of these offenses should consider reviewing the available legal options with an attorney. An attorney may be able to help a person devise a strategy for contesting the charges or pursuing sentencing terms that reflect any mitigating circumstances.