Perceived vulnerability to overdose-related arrests among people who use drugs in Maryland

Saba Rouhani, Kristin E. Schneider, Anjana Rao, Glenna J. Urquhart, Miles Morris, Lindsay LaSalle, Susan G. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: People who use drugs (PWUD) must weigh complex legal scenarios when seeking help during overdose events. Good Samaritan laws (GSL) offer limited immunity for certain low-level drug crimes to encourage PWUD to call 911. Drug-induced homicide laws (DHL) allow for criminal prosecution of people delivering drugs that result in overdose death and may exert opposing effects on the decision-making process. We examined whether perceptions of these laws were related to overall perceived vulnerability to overdose-related arrests, which can impact help-seeking and overdose mortality. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study of PWUD (N = 173) in Anne Arundel County, Maryland and measured sociodemographic characteristics, structural vulnerabilities, and knowledge of GSL and DHL. Perceived vulnerability to overdose-related arrest was defined as self-reported concern arising from calling 911, receiving medical help, or supplying drugs in the event of an overdose. Multivariable logistic regression was used to identify significant correlates of perceived vulnerability to overdose-related arrest. Results: Most participants were aware of DHL (87%) and half were aware of GSL (53%). Forty-seven percent of PWUD expressed concern about arrest during or due to an overdose. After adjustment, positive correlates of perceived vulnerability to arrest were non-white race (aOR 2.0, 95% CI 1.5-2.5) and hearing of somebody charged with DHL (aOR 3.1, 95%CI 1.9-5.0), and negative correlates were history of drug treatment (aOR 0.6, 95%CI 0.4-1.0), receiving naloxone (aOR 0.6, 95% CI 0.4-1.0), and having made, sold or traded drugs in the past 3 months (aOR 0.4, 95% CI 0.2-0.9). Conclusions: We report persisting concern about arrest during overdose events among street-based PWUD facing a complicated landscape of legal protections and liabilities. Findings demonstrate clear racial disparities in concern outside of an urban centre, where impacts of policing on health are less studied, and present evidence that DHL may compromise overdose prevention efforts. Changes to drug policy and enforcement including police nonattendance at overdose scenes may be necessary to promote help-seeking among PWUD and reduce overdose fatalities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103426
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Drug Induced Homicide Laws
  • Good Samaritan Laws
  • Overdose
  • Policing
  • Race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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