Pathways to racial disparities in the effects of Good Samaritan laws: A mixed methods pilot study

BACKGROUND: Drug overdose deaths continue to rise, and considerable racial inequities have emerged. Overdose Good Samaritan laws (GSLs) are intended to encourage overdose witnesses to seek emergency assistance. However, evidence of their effectiveness is mixed, and little is known regarding racial disparities in their implementation. This study examined GSL impact by assessing racial differences in awareness of and trust in New York state’s GSL.

METHODS: Using a sequential mixed methods design, Black and white participants were recruited from an existing longitudinal cohort study of people who use illicit opioids in New York City to participate in a quantitative survey and qualitative interviews. Racially stratified survey responses were analyzed using chi-squared tests, Fisher exact tests, or t-tests. Qualitative interviews were analyzed using a hybrid inductive-deductive approach.

RESULTS: Participants (n=128) were 56% male and predominantly aged 50 years or older. Most met criteria for severe opioid use disorder (81%). Fifty-seven percent reported that the New York GSL makes them more likely to call 911 even though 42% reported not trusting law enforcement to abide by the GSL; neither differed by race. Black people were less likely to have heard of the GSL (36.1% vs 60%) and were less likely to have accurate information regarding its protections (40.4% vs 49.6%).

CONCLUSIONS: Though GSLs may reduce negative impacts of the criminalization of people who use drugs, their implementation may exacerbate existing racial disparities. Resources should be directed towards harm reduction strategies that do not rely on trust in law enforcement.

Full citation:
Pamplin JR, King C, Cooper C, Bennett AS, Elliott L, Davis CS, Rouhani S, Townsend TN (2023).
Pathways to racial disparities in the effects of Good Samaritan laws: A mixed methods pilot study
Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 249, 110823. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2023.110823.