Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 90, Issue 6, pp 1102-1111

First online:

Police Officers’ and Paramedics’ Experiences with Overdose and Their Knowledge and Opinions of Washington State’s Drug Overdose–Naloxone–Good Samaritan Law

  • Caleb J. Banta-GreenAffiliated withAlcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, University of Washington Email author 
  • , Leo BeletskyAffiliated withSchool of Law and Bouvé College of Health Sciences, Northeastern UniversityDivision of Global Public Health, University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine
  • , Jennifer A. SchoeppeAffiliated withAlcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, University of Washington
  • , Phillip O. CoffinAffiliated withSan Francisco Department of Public HealthUniversity of California, San Francisco
  • , Patricia C. KuszlerAffiliated withSchool of Law, University of Washington

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Opioid overdoses are an important public health concern. Concerns about police involvement at overdose events may decrease calls to 911 for emergency medical care thereby increasing the chances than an overdose becomes fatal. To address this concern, Washington State passed a law that provides immunity from drug possession charges and facilitates the availability of take-home-naloxone (the opioid overdose antidote) to bystanders in 2010. To examine the knowledge and opinions regarding opioid overdoses and this new law, police (n = 251) and paramedics (n = 28) in Seattle, WA were surveyed. The majority of police (64 %) and paramedics (89 %) had been at an opioid overdose in the prior year. Few officers (16 %) or paramedics (7 %) were aware of the new law. While arrests at overdose scenes were rare, drugs or paraphernalia were confiscated at 25 % of the most recent overdoses police responded to. Three quarters of officers felt it was important they were at the scene of an overdose to protect medical personnel, and a minority, 34 %, indicated it was important they were present for the purpose of enforcing laws. Police opinions about the immunity and naloxone provisions of the law were split, and we present a summary of the reasons for their opinions. The results of this survey were utilized in public health efforts by the police department which developed a roll call training video shown to all patrol officers. Knowledge of the law was low, and opinions of it were mixed; however, police were concerned about the issue of opioid overdose and willing to implement agency-wide training.


Overdose Law Police Paramedic Opioid Heroin Naloxone Good Samaritan Public health