Assessing the effectiveness of New York's 911 Good Samaritan Law-Evidence from a natural experiment

Int J Drug Policy. 2018 Aug:58:149-156. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2018.05.013. Epub 2018 Jun 30.


Background: Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Nationally, opioids are the primary drugs associated with accidental overdoses. In response to increasing overdose deaths, 40 states and the District of Columbia have enacted Good Samaritan Laws (GSLs). Generally, these policies attempt to encourage witnesses or those experiencing an overdose to call 911 by providing limited immunity from arrest, charge and/or prosecution of possession of narcotics. The aim of the current study is to evaluate the effectiveness of New York State's 911 GSL.

Methods: We exploit a difference in state law between New York State, where the policy was adopted in 2011, and New Jersey, where the policy was not adopted until 2013, to provide a reasonable comparison condition. We examine variation in accidental opioid overdose emergency department visits and inpatient admissions from 2010 to 2012 across 270 hospitals in New York and New Jersey at the quarterly level controlling for hospital fixed effects and time trends using State Emergency Department Databases (SEDD) and State Inpatient Databases (SID).

Results: Accidental opioid overdose emergency department visits and inpatient hospital admissions were increasing in both New York and New Jersey. After the enactment of New York's 911 GSL, emergency department visits and inpatient hospital admissions for accidental heroin overdoses increased differently in New York and New Jersey, with an incident rate ratio (IRR) of 1.34 (95% CI = 1.00, 1.86). The results were inconclusive for accidental non-heroin opioid overdoses (IRR = 0.98, 95% CI = 0.86, 1.13).

Conclusions: Accidental heroin overdose emergency department visits and inpatient hospital admissions increased in New York State after the enactment of the 911 GSL, consistent with the intended effect of the GSL. Preliminary evidence suggests that either persons who use heroin and/or those around them were impacted by the policy change.

Keywords: 911 good samaritan; Harm reduction; Heroin overdose; Opioid overdose.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual
  • Drug Overdose / psychology*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / trends*
  • Help-Seeking Behavior*
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitalization / trends*
  • Hotlines / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / psychology*