Faced with soaring drug overdoses, advocates and lawmakers Thursday urged the Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills to support expanding the state’s “Good Samaritan” law to offer broader legal protection to anyone at the scene of a drug overdose where someone calls for help.

The bill, L.D. 1862, was introduced by Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Lincoln, and has a half-dozen bipartisan cosponsors. Dozens testified in favor of the bill during a public hearing Wednesday, but it is opposed by the Mills administration, which has signaled it will not support the bill as written over fears it will have the unintended effect of providing blanket immunity for unrelated crimes.

Lawmakers on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will discuss the legislation during a work session Feb. 17, when they can offer amendments.

The proposed expansion comes after Maine’s deadliest year ever for overdose deaths. Last year, an estimated 636 people died from drug overdoses, most from opioid-related substances, an increase of 23 percent over 2020 and an all-time high for the state.

At a brief rally outside the State House on Thursday, bill supporters handed out purple ribbons and people in recovery urged the governor and lawmakers to pass the broader protections.

Opponents so far include police and prosecutors. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck, the state’s top cop, said the administration would not support the bill as drafted.


The state’s current Good Samaritan law was signed by Mills in 2019, and covers only the person who dialed 911, administered the overdose-reversing drug naloxone and the person who overdosed. It shields them from prosecution for simple drug possession, acquiring drugs by deception and use of drug paraphernalia, and some drug-related probation violations.

But advocates say the shield has been ineffective at changing how people behave when someone near them overdoses. Drug users still fear police will arrest them or report them to probation. Dozens of Mainers have died alone because the people around them did not want to go to jail, said Wendy Allen of the Restorative Justice Institute of Maine.

Allen, who is in long-term recovery from heroin use, said people who use drugs in the same house usually talk about what to do when someone overdoses, and they don’t want to call 911. Allen said that is what happened when she overdosed. Although someone gave her the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, it barely kept her alive.

“No one called 911 for assistance out of fear,” she said. “I needed medical assistance, but instead, fear of law enforcement caused the ones in the house to administer naloxone and leave the residence. I woke up sick, scared, confused and alone. I was lucky I woke up at all.”

Chastity Tuell of Marshfield, who is also in long-term recovery and helps train people on the use of naloxone through Maine Access Points, said 90 percent of overdose reversals reported to the group do not involve a call to 911. The status-quo is not working, she said.

Sen. Marianne Moore, R-Washington, a cosponsor, provided vivid anecdotes showing that avoiding police results in needless overdose deaths. In one case, someone who witnessed an overdose cleaned up the drug evidence, went to someone else’s house to establish an alibi, and then called 911, but the drug user had already died. Too much time had passed, Moore said.


In a second instance, Moore said, police followed the letter of the current law by not arresting someone who called 911, but violated the statute’s spirit when they returned the next day to conduct a “random” probation check and drug test. In a third case, Moore said, police simply ignored the current law altogether and reported the 911 caller directly to probation, which is forbidden.

“We often think about what we would do in a similar situation. We hope we would do the right thing,” Moore said. “But if we have to pause and ask ourselves, ‘am I going to be arrested if I call 911,’ we are clearly asking the wrong question.”

The bill has already faced criticism from police and prosecutors.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck testified against the measure during a public hearing last week. Sauschuck, the former Portland police chief, said the bill is too broad as written, would put Maine out of step with other states’ policies and would benefit people who do nothing to assist the person in distress, while granting them immunity for a vast number of unrelated crimes.

“What if a property owner discovers a person overdosing, calls 9-1-1 and later it is discovered the person in need of assistance had just burglarized the property?” Sauschuck said in written testimony. “What if a person overdoses, 9-1-1 is called and a person at the location happens to be the one who sold the drugs to the overdose victim and is found with a substantial amount of illegal drugs, cash and firearms?”

Assistant Attorney General John Risler, speaking on behalf of the Attorney General’s Office, also testified against the bill, but said his office would be open to expanding protections. As written, someone present at the scene of an overdose that resulted in a 911 call would receive immunity for crimes such as endangering the welfare of a child, trafficking in the drugs that caused the overdose or illegal possession of a gun.

“Expanding the scope of the law should involve careful consideration of which laws may create potential barriers for seeking emergency assistance, as opposed to blanket immunity that could unjustly protect a wide range of criminal activity.”

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