29 Sep 23

Using the Good Samaritan Defense for Drug Overdoses in Chicago

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Last Updated on: 1st October 2023, 10:08 am

Using the Good Samaritan Defense for Drug Overdoses in Chicago

Drug overdoses have become a huge problem in Chicago and across Illinois in recent years. With the opioid crisis raging, more and more people are overdosing on drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers. Many folks are scared to call 911 when they witness an overdose because they don’t want to get in trouble for drug possession themselves. But Illinois actually has a “Good Samaritan” law to protect people who help out in overdose emergencies. This article will explain how the Good Samaritan defense works in Chicago and why it’s so important.

What is the Good Samaritan law in Illinois?

Illinois passed its Good Samaritan law back in 2012. It’s officially called the Emergency Medical Services Access Law. The law says that if someone calls 911 for an overdose or takes the victim to the ER, they can’t be prosecuted for drug possession. This applies to both the person calling for help and the person who overdosed. The law protects people from being charged with felony possession of small amounts of drugs like:

  • Less than 3 grams of heroin
  • Less than 3 grams of morphine
  • Less than 40 grams of prescription opioids

The Illinois Department of Human Services is in charge of the Drug Overdose Prevention Program. They train folks and give out the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The Good Samaritan law works hand in hand with this program to encourage people to save lives.

Why was the Good Samaritan law passed in Illinois?

Back in 2012, Illinois was facing a growing opioid epidemic. More and more people were dying from overdoses every year. Folks were scared to call for help when they witnessed an OD. They didn’t want to risk getting arrested if cops found drugs on them. So the state passed the Good Samaritan law to take away that fear. The goal was to encourage people to call 911 to save lives instead of being afraid of getting in trouble.

Research shows these kinds of Good Samaritan laws really work. States that pass them end up having lower overdose death rates. The laws give people confidence to call for help without worrying about legal consequences. This gets overdose victims medical care faster and saves lives.

Who does the Good Samaritan law protect in Illinois?

The Illinois law protects both the overdose victim and the person who calls 911 or takes them to the ER. As long as small amounts of drugs are involved, neither party can be prosecuted for drug possession. This is really important.

For example, let’s say your friend overdoses on heroin you bought together. Without the law, you might be too scared of drug charges to call 911. But with the Good Samaritan protection, you can focus on saving your friend’s life instead of worrying about legal issues.

The law also protects the overdose victim from prosecution. So even if the drugs are theirs, they can’t be charged for possession just because you called 911. This encourages people who use drugs to seek prompt medical care that could save their life.

How does the Good Samaritan defense work in court in Illinois?

Let’s say the cops show up when you call 911 for an overdose. They find heroin on you and charge you with possession. Your lawyer can file a motion to dismiss the charges based on the Good Samaritan law. They’ll argue that you’re immune from prosecution because you were seeking medical help for an overdose emergency.

The burden of proof is on the defense to show that:

  • The drugs in question were covered under the law (heroin, morphine, prescription opioids)
  • The amount was within legal limits (less than 3 grams of heroin, etc)
  • You were actively seeking medical assistance for an overdose

If you have a good criminal defense lawyer and meet these criteria, the charges against you should be dismissed. The Good Samaritan law provides a complete defense rather than just a reduced sentence.

What are the limits of the Illinois Good Samaritan law?

The law only provides immunity for small amounts of certain drugs. It doesn’t protect people caught with large quantities of illegal drugs. Traffickers and dealers can’t use the defense to avoid prosecution. The law is meant to protect average folks trying to save lives, not major criminals.

The law also only applies if you’re actively seeking medical assistance for an overdose. It doesn’t provide blanket immunity for drug possession. You can’t use the defense if cops find drugs on you during a traffic stop, for example. It only covers drugs found as a result of you calling 911 or going to the ER for an OD.

Does the Good Samaritan law apply to minors and alcohol?

The Emergency Medical Services Access Law provides protection against drug possession charges. But Illinois has a separate law to protect underage drinkers who need medical help. The Underage Alcohol Immunity law says minors can’t be prosecuted for alcohol possession if they call 911 for a friend suffering from alcohol poisoning.

So in Illinois, both drug users and underage drinkers are protected if they call for emergency medical assistance. The state realizes punishing people in these situations does more harm than good. It’s better to save lives by encouraging folks to call 911 without fear.

Can you still be charged with other crimes under the Good Samaritan law?

The Illinois law only provides immunity for minor drug possession charges. It doesn’t protect against other offenses like distribution, trafficking, or crimes like assault. Prosecutors can still charge you with other crimes unrelated to simple possession.

For example, let’s say you call 911 because your friend OD’d on heroin you gave them. You may be immune from possession charges due to the Good Samaritan law. But you could still potentially be charged with drug distribution or even manslaughter.

The law is designed to save lives, not give total criminal immunity. Prosecutors can still charge suspects with other offenses the law doesn’t cover.

Does Illinois have 911 drug immunity in addition to Good Samaritan laws?

Some states have both Good Samaritan laws AND additional laws providing 911 drug immunity. Good Samaritan laws protect people who drive overdose victims to the hospital. 911 drug immunity laws protect people who call 911 to report an overdose.

Illinois’s Good Samaritan statute covers both scenarios. People are immune from prosecution if they call 911 OR transport someone to the ER for an overdose. There is no need for an additional 911 immunity law in Illinois.

How does Illinois compare to other states on Good Samaritan laws?

Illinois has one of the better Good Samaritan policies in the US. Many states provide immunity just for calling 911. But Illinois also extends protection to people who physically take overdose victims to the hospital. This “seeks medical assistance OR transports” language is important.

Some states like Wisconsin only protect people who call 911 and stay on the scene. Illinois has a broader law that also covers taking victims directly to the ER. This encourages quicker medical intervention without waiting for paramedics to arrive.

Overall, Illinois has one of the most comprehensive Good Samaritan laws for drug overdoses. It provides robust protections for both callers and transporters.

What about Good Samaritan laws in Chicago specifically?

The Illinois Good Samaritan law applies statewide, including in Chicago. Chicago does not have any additional policies on top of the state law. Some cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco have local Good Samaritan ordinances.

But in Illinois, the statewide Emergency Medical Services Access Law provides protection across the entire state. Chicago residents can take advantage of the same immunity from prosecution as people in other parts of Illinois.

Have Good Samaritan laws made an impact in Illinois?

Research shows that Good Samaritan laws really do save lives. A 2017 study found a 15% decrease in opioid overdose deaths in states with Good Samaritan laws. The researchers estimated these laws prevent 1 opioid overdose death per 4,000 chronic drug users.

Another study by the Government Accountability Office found lower overdose death rates in states with Good Samaritan statutes. These laws work by encouraging people to call 911 instead of hesitating out of fear of prosecution.

While hard numbers are lacking, Illinois’s Good Samaritan law has almost certainly saved lives by giving people confidence to promptly seek medical help for overdoses.

What about the role of naloxone access laws?

In addition to Good Samaritan laws, many states also have naloxone access laws. These are policies designed to get the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone into the hands of more community members.

Like Good Samaritan laws, naloxone access laws save lives by empowering bystanders to act quickly. More people carrying naloxone means more lives can be saved in those critical moments before paramedics arrive.

Illinois has both strong Good Samaritan protections AND naloxone access laws. This combination of harm reduction policies allows the state to fight the opioid crisis from multiple angles and save as many lives as possible.


The opioid overdose epidemic is a huge problem affecting Chicago, Illinois, and the entire nation. Good Samaritan laws empower people to save lives by calling 911 without fear of prosecution. Illinois has one of the better Good Samaritan policies in the US.

These laws serve an important purpose. We need to encourage people to act fast to get overdose victims medical care. Punishing bystanders who call 911 is counterproductive and life-threatening. The more lives we can save, the better chance we have of turning the tide against the opioid crisis.