The New York 911 Good Samaritan Law and Opioid Overdose Prevention Among People Who Inject Drugs

Cathy Zadoretzky, Courtney McKnight, Heidi Bramson, Don Des Jarlais, Maxine Phillips, Mark Hammer, Mary Ellen Cala

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines how people who inject drugs (PWIDs) applied and experienced New York's Opioid Overdose Prevention Programs (OOPPs) and 911 Good Samaritan Law. Mixed-methods interviews were conducted with a community sample of New York syringe exchange participants (N = 225) and new admissions to methadone treatment (N = 75) in 2013 and 2014. Most participants were unaware of explicit protections provided by New York law to witnesses (85 percent) or overdose victims (83 percent) who called 911 for assistance. However, 75 percent called 911 upon last witnessing an overdose and 85 percent were very likely to call 911 for future victims. Calling 911 was associated with knowing relatives or friends who died of overdose (AOR = 2.57; 95%CI: 1.28, 5.19), OOPP training since implementation of the 911 Good Samaritan Law (AOR = 1.55; 95%CI: 1.07, 2.24), and perceived importance of calling 911 (AOR = 2.12; 95%CI: 1.02, 4.40). Thematic patterns in qualitative data revealed that participants fearing criminal penalties delayed calling 911 or abandoned overdose victims after calling 911, risking victim morbidity and fatality. Misunderstanding of New York law and fear of criminal penalties undermined participants’ efforts to save lives, even when 911 was called. Public health outcomes may benefit by investigating how PWIDs misunderstand the 911 Good Samaritan Law.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)318-340
Number of pages23
JournalWorld Medical and Health Policy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • 911 Good Samaritan Law
  • opioid overdose
  • overdose prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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