Vermont Enacts Good Samaritan Law

By Tessie Castillo 06/05/13

Today VT becomes the 13th state to protect victims and witnesses of a drug overdose from prosecution.

Potential lifesaver Photo via

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed an important overdose prevention bill into law this morning, at a conference in South Burlington hosted by addiction specialist and sometime Fix interviewee Dr. Gabor Maté. House bill 65 protects the victim and witnesses to a drug overdose from arrest and prosecution for certain crimes, including possession of drugs or paraphernalia and violation of restraining orders or probation. Last year, drug overdose claimed 73 lives in Vermont and remains the leading cause of injury death to state residents aged 25-64. The law aims to reduce deaths by removing the fear of criminal repercussions that prevents overdose witnesses from seeking help. The Governor also signed House bill 533, a comprehensive drug treatment and prevention bill designed to strengthen Vermont’s response to opioid and methamphetamine use. Both laws become effective immediately. “These bills are important because Vermonters care about those among us who are living with addiction," says Tom Dalton, an advocate for the bill from Howard Center Safe Recovery in Burlington, "and their safety and wellbeing matter to us all.”

Vermont is the 13th US state to pass a 911 Good Samaritan law to combat an epidemic that claims more lives each year than car accidents and murder combined. New Mexico blazed the trail in 2007, before a swift succession of similar laws passed in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, and the District of Columbia. This year, nearly a dozen more states introduced bills; legislation in North Carolina and New Jersey emerged victorious, while other bills were strangled by partisan bickering (Missouri, Mississippi and North Dakota), killed in committee (New Hampshire and West Virginia), or simply ran out of time (Hawaii and Texas). Maine still has a live bill, but it looks unlikely to pass this year.

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Tessie Castillo is a writer and drug policy advocate in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her articles explore topics such as criminal justice reform, drug policy, and harm reduction. Castillo previously served as the Advocacy and Communications Coordinator for the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC), a statewide nonprofit that advances drug policy and criminal justice reform. During that time, she played a pivotal role in helping to legalize syringe exchange programs and expand access to naloxone, a medicine that reverses opioid overdose. Find Tessie at her website or on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.