From January 2016 to December 2018, 1,971 deaths in the province of Alberta have been attributed to apparent opioid-related overdoses. Alberta RCMP were dispatched to several of those incidents and determined that, in some cases, it is believed that bystanders, friends or family members were hesitant to call emergency services for assistance due to concerns of potential legal repercussions. Every overdose death is tragic, and many of these potential tragedies can be avoided if people who witness overdose situations seek emergency help promptly.
To encourage people to seek potentially life-saving emergency help in an overdose situation, the RCMP, in collaboration with Heath Canada and the Chief Medical Officer of Health of Alberta, want to remind residents of the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which provides some legal protections for people who experience or witness an overdose and call 911 or their local emergency number for help.
Legal protection granted by the Act
The Act is meant to encourage people to seek emergency help during an overdose by helping to reduce fear of seeking police or medical assistance. It applies to anyone seeking emergency assistance during an overdose, including the person experiencing an overdose. The Act protects the person who seeks help, whether they stay or leave from the overdose scene, as well as anyone else who is at the scene when help arrives.
The Act can protect you from:
- Charges for possession of a controlled substance (i.e. drugs) under section 4(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
- Consequences of breach of conditions regarding simple possession of controlled substances (i.e. drugs) in: pre-trial release, probation orders, conditional sentences and parole.
It is important to note that the Act does not provide legal protection against more serious offences, such as: production and trafficking of controlled substances, and all other crimes not outlined within the Act.
How to help save a life
Drug overdoses could happen to someone close to you – a friend, a family member, or someone nearby. Staying at the scene is important to help save the life of the person experiencing an overdose.
Witnesses should call for emergency help and render whatever assistance they can, including administering naloxone – a fast-acting drug that temporarily reverses the effects of opioid overdoses – if it is available, providing first aid, including rescue breathing (CPR) if necessary until help arrives, and staying calm and reassuring the person that help is on the way.
The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act is part of the Government of Canada's comprehensive approach to addressing the opioid crisis.
You can learn more at Canada.ca/Opioids.