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Reporting Drug Overdoses

November 15, 2016

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

In Pennsylvania, those who report a drug overdose to a law enforcement agency are protected from prosecution, if as a result of the report, officers discover the caller’s use of drugs. This law was passed in an effort to encourage residents to report overdoses and potentially save the lives of thousands of individuals; so if you or a loved one are being investigated for or charged with a drug crime as a result of your decision to report an overdose, it is critical to retain the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can ensure that your rights to immunity from prosecution are protected.

Immunity from Prosecution

According to Pennsylvania law, a person cannot be charged with a crime for a drug offense or for a violation of probation or parole if the person can establish that:

  • Law enforcement officers only became aware of the individual’s commission of an offense because he or she transported a person experiencing a drug overdose event to a law enforcement agency or health care facility.

A person will also be granted immunity from prosecution if he or she:

  • Reported, in good faith, a drug overdose to a police officer, 911, or emergency services personnel and the report was made based on the reasonable belief that another person was in need of immediate medical attention to prevent death or serious bodily injury;
  • The person reporting the overdose provided his or her own name and location and cooperated with law enforcement; and
  • The person remained with the individual requiring medical attention until emergency services personnel arrived.

For the purposes of this law, a drug overdose event is defined as an acute medical condition resulting from the consumption of a controlled substance. Symptoms include:

  • Severe physical illness;
  • Coma;
  • Mania;
  • Hysteria; and
  • Death.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, additional signs of opioid or depressant overdose include:

  • Slow and shallow breathing;
  • Fatigue and inability to speak;
  • Blue lips or fingertips; and
  • Gurgling or snoring.

Signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Confusion;
  • Difficulty remaining conscious or alert;
  • Slow breathing;
  • Clammy skin;
  • Vomiting;
  • Seizures;
  • Slow heart rate;
  • Dulled responses; and
  • Low body temperature.


Prosecution will not be barred in specific instances, including if a law enforcement officer obtains prior or independent information than that provided by the reporting individual about the same drug-related offense. Prosecution can also proceed if the offenses include charges for delivery or distribution of a controlled substance.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Drug overdose-related deaths are tragically on the rise in Pennsylvania. In an effort to combat this trend, the state legislature passed a series of laws granting immunity from prosecution to those who report drug overdoses. Unfortunately, many individuals still find themselves being investigated for or charged with drug-related offenses, so if you live in Pennsylvania and were recently charged with a drug crime after reporting an overdose, please contact van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim by calling (215) 486-0123 or by completing and submitting one of our standard contact forms and a member of our legal team will assist you in scheduling a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney.


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