Lawmakers in the House and Senate have approved a bill that would expand legal protection to anyone at the scene of a drug overdose in hopes that witnesses will call for help and save lives.

The initial votes in the House and Senate come after the state recorded a record-shattering 636 fatal overdoses last year. It’s unknown how many could have been prevented by emergency 9-1-1 calls, but advocates say many potentially fatal overdoses are not reported to emergency medical responders because witnesses fear being arrested, resulting in missed opportunities to save lives and get people into treatment.

Bill supporters argue that expanding the Good Samaritan Law will alleviate fears of legal trouble that stop people from calling for help because they have bail violations or possess drugs. But opponents say the proposal is too broad and would shield people who happen to be present but do not actually take steps to save a victim’s life.

The Mills administration proposed a more limited expansion of the state’s Good Samaritan Law. A spokesperson for Gov. Janet Mills did not say whether she plans to veto the Legislature’s bill.

Enacted in 2019, the existing law protects only the caller and the person who overdosed from being charged with a crime. Mills’ proposal would also protect people who may not have called 9-1-1 but tried to help the victim by administering the overdose antidote naloxone, or by performing CPR.

The House and the Senate voted in support of a broader expansion that would cover nearly everyone at the scene unless serious crimes are uncovered, such as sex crimes, crimes of violence or crimes against children.


The bill awaits a final procedural vote in the Senate before heading to the governor.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, said she hopes Gov. Mills will rethink her opposition and sign the bill, which has the support of the recovery community and several health organizations, such as the Maine Public Health Association and American Medical Association.

“When you’re looking at the difference between what the executive branch put forward and what the recovery community is rallying behind, the difference is really about how much are we going to punish people versus how far are we going to go to save a record number of lives,” Maxmin said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle offered emotional and personal stories in support of the bill during a 50-minute debate in the House.

Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham, said he used to think the best way to help people with substance use disorder was “to smack them with justice.” Then, he lost a close family member who hid his substance use before a fatal overdose.

“I’ve had to evolve on this subject,” Corey said, choking up as he described the grip of addiction. “While I’ve always fought to get these people help, maybe I chose the wrong fight at times. It is more important that we save lives, because we will never arrest our way out of the overdose deaths, especially when somebody is in crisis.”


But Rep. Richard Pickett, R-Dixfield, spoke in favor of the administration’s more measured expansion. The former Maine State trooper and police chief said that a police officer’s top priority when responding to an overdose is to save a life, not to find reasons to arrest people at the scene. Pickett said the broad expansion would only serve to protect people at the scene who did nothing to help.

“Expanding the law to immunize any persons who happen to be at the same location as the victim and the caller is unwarranted and would result in protecting persons who may have committed offenses or played no role in providing any aid whatsoever,” he said.

While proponents conceded that few – if any – bystanders at overdose scenes would have been arrested, they argued that the threat of arrest is enough to stop people from calling for help.

Rep. Lydia Crafts, D-Newcastle, said her cousin died on Sept. 25, 2021, of an overdose. Crafts said emergency responders did not get to the scene for two hours because other people at the scene were too afraid to call for help.

“The people around him were not able to hold onto his life,” Crafts said. “It slipped out of the room as they searched for Narcan. His pulse was gone as they cleaned up the apartment. His lungs halted as a friend filled a backpack and took off.”

Crafts said someone at the scene had just been released on bail and witnesses were more concerned about getting rid of evidence than calling for help.


“I wish his friends felt safe calling emergency services sooner,” Crafts said. “Because I can’t make this true in the past, my hope for today is that anyone at the scene of an overdose makes the call for help and does it immediately.”

The House approved the bill 83-52 with eight Republicans joining all but two Democrats – Reps. Kevin O’Connell of Brewer, and Ralph Tucker of Brunswick – to support the bill. Twelve representatives were absent.

The Senate, meanwhile, voted unanimously to approve the bill after defeating the governor’s version by a 22-12 vote.

Nearly two dozen advocates watched the House vote from the gallery Monday and celebrated in the halls of the State House after the vote.

Courtney Allen, organizing director for the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project, which pushed for the bill, said in an interview she was pleased to see bipartisan support.

Allen said she sometimes receives calls from people at the scene of an overdose asking what they should do. She said she always advises them to call for help, but it doesn’t always work. She hopes the bill helps alleviate concerns about legal trouble.

“The recovery community has made it clear that the 2019 law wasn’t substantial enough,” Allen said. “We need a law that we can be clear and concise with the drug-using community that they are safe in calling 9-1-1 to get the help they need.”

Allen and Maxmin both said they hope Mills will reconsider her position.

“It’s huge we had such bipartisan votes in the House and the Senate,” Maxmin said. “The Maine Legislature, as its own independent branch of the government, has passed some of the most groundbreaking policy for the recovery community. We can talk all we want about saving lives and preventing overdoses but if we don’t stand behind legislation then it doesn’t really mean a whole lot.”

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