Several Alberta agencies are reminding people of the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which provides some legal protection for people who call 911 after witnessing an overdose.
Between January 2016 and December 2018, there were 1,971 opioid-related overdose deaths in the province, according to officials.
In some cases, the Alberta RCMP said family, friends or bystanders were hesitant to call emergency services because of concerns over potential legal repercussions.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw — Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health — said a 2017 study shows that as many as 84 per cent of overdose victims had at least one friend or family member who knew of their drug use.
“There are often opportunities for people to be prepared to help a family member or loved one who is in the situation of an overdose,'” Hinshaw said.
The Act encourages people to seek help for overdose victims by reducing the fear they will be charged with drug possession or breach of conditions.
The Act can protect from:
- charges for possession of a controlled substance (i.e. drugs) under section 4(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act
- consequences of breach of conditions regarding simple possession of controlled substances (i.e. drugs) in pre-trial release, probation orders, conditional sentences and parole
The Act does not protect against more serious offences such as production and trafficking of drugs or any other crimes not outlined by the act.
Hinshaw said the people who are around a person who overdoses are their best chance for survival.
“They can pick up the phone and they can call for help… without fearing recrimination,” said Hinshaw.
Over the past four years, Hinshaw said Alberta has made gains in being able to reverse overdoses when possible.
She said there have been more than 10,000 reports of Naloxone being used to reverse opioid overdoses since the program was launched in 2015.
WATCH: Global News’ series Blood Tribe Killer looking at the opioid crisis in southern Alberta
But in her opinion, more still needs to be done.
“We can’t take that for granted,” Hinshaw warned. “We need to continue sending that message that what people choose to do in an emergency situation can save lives.”
A map of places that supply Naloxone kits free of charge is available on Alberta Health Service’s website.