Opioid Addiction: The Safe Reporting Law

Attorney General Mark Herring. WAVY TV 10 Photo.

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Doctors and law enforcement say more overdoses could be reported, and lives could be saved, if people knew about a law that protects them from prosecution.

During our in-depth look at the opioid crisis, 10 On Your Side found that few people know about a Virginia law that encourages someone to summon medical help if they or someone they’re with is having an overdose.

The Safe Reporting Law went into effect two years ago. Attorney General Mark Herring says he wishes more people were aware of the protections it provides.

Special Coverage: Opioid Addiction

“We’ve seen how people who are in the presence of someone who is having an overdose are sometimes worried about getting in trouble themselves, and will not report that someone needs help.”

As a result, first responders don’t know that someone is about to die, and investigators are denied vital information about what happened. Doctors say people will drop off someone who has overdosed outside an emergency room, and then flee.

“All too often we have people who are dropped off on our front doorstep, and they’re essentially dead,” says Ben Fickenscher, an emergency physician with Chesapeake Regional Medical Center.  “And the people who dropped them off are worried that they are going to be arrested.”

Pamela Person had it happen to her son Devon. He was with cousins out of state when he overdosed. She said they didn’t know what to do and panicked.

“They essentially dropped him off (at a hospital) like a bag of trash, and called somebody in the emergency room and drove off.”

Fortunately, Devon recovered. But with more than 1,100 opioid deaths last year alone in Virginia, Herring says people need to know about a law that protects them from prosecution.

Under the law, you’re protected from prosecution for possession of a controlled substance if you meet all of these conditions:

  • Report the overdose to 911 or a first responder
  • Stay at the scene until first responders have arrived
  • Identify yourself to authorities
  • Cooperate with police in the investigation into what caused the overdose

“Our message to everyone out there is if you’re in the presence of someone having an overdose, call 911 and get them help right away,” Herring said.

Pamela Person says she likes the law because it can make a difference. “Be responsible. We see it, we tell it. I know that’s not typically what people do, but it’s necessary.”

The law also applies to marijuana, alcohol and drug paraphernalia. It does not apply during the execution of a search warrant, nor during a lawful search or arrest.