Understanding Georgia’s 911 Medical Amnesty Law

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 44 people in our country die from an overdose of prescription painkillers each day.  Trust for America’s Health further specifies that the number of drug overdose deaths in Georgia has tripled between 2010 and 2013, with prescription drug related deaths now outnumbering deaths associated with heroine and cocaine combined.

To address what is often referred to as a prescription drug overdose epidemic1, Georgia signed into law Georgia House Bill 965. Known as Georgia’s 911 Medical Amnesty Law, the new law aims to reduce overdose deaths with a two-pronged approach.  First, it encourages individuals to call for help when experiencing or witnessing an overdose by removing the risk of legal consequence.  Secondly, it provides varying levels of civil or criminal immunity for those involved with the possession or administration of the opioid antidote, naloxone.

The CDC states, “In 2013, more than 16,000 deaths in the United States involved prescription opioids, and more than 8,000 others were related to heroin3.”  When administered in time, the prescription drug naloxone can reverse an overdose resulting from opioid or heroine use, thus increasing survival rates.  However, many overdoses go unreported by bystanders who fear being arrested for drug-related crimes.

The 911 Medical Amnesty Law amends current laws by providing limited immunity for possession of certain drugs; probation, parole, and other violations; possession of drug paraphernalia; and illegal possession and consumption of alcohol for any person who seeks medical attention for someone who is experiencing an overdose4.  Ideally, it encourages people to call for help without the fear that they or the person who is experiencing the overdose will face arrest, criminal charges, or prosecution.

Additionally, the 911 Amnesty Law provides increased access to naloxone and offers immunity from civil or criminal liability, as long as the individual administering the drug acts in accordance with the law.  While acting in compliance with relevant standards of care, the law authorizes physicians in the state to provide prescriptions for naloxone to individuals, friends, family members, first responders, and others who would be in position to help a person with an elevated risk of experiencing an overdose.  For the professionals who prescribe or fill the medication and the individuals who administer the treatment, the law provides immunity “from civil or criminal liability or professional licensing sanction, so long as they act in accordance to the law.” 4

Although the law is somewhat new to the Georgia legal system, Criminal Defense Attorney Patrick McDonough has successfully referenced the 911 Amnesty Law in order to have a case against his client dismissed.

At Andersen, Tate & Carr, our attorneys are dedicated to reaching the best possible outcome for our clients. Our criminal defense attorneys, Patrick McDonough and Trinity Hundredmark, have combined experience of more than 30 years representing clients facing criminal charges in Georgia. For more information, or to request a case evaluation, contact our law office at 1-770-822-0900.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Injury Prevention & Control: Prescription Drug Overdose. http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/

2 Trust for America’s Health. “Georgia has the 36th Highest Drug Overdose Mortality Rate in the United States.” http://healthyamericans.org/reports/drugabuse2013/release.php?stateid=GA

3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Expanding Naloxone use could reduce drug overdose deaths and save lives.” http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0424-naloxone.html

4 The Network for Public Health Law. “Georgia’s 911 Medical Amnesty Law.” https://www.networkforphl.org/_asset/q5t5j3/GA-overdose-prevention.pdf