Narcan syringes between the legs of a victim who was revived from a drug overdose before being strapped to a rescue stretcher. Kokomo police and fire along with medics responded to three people found unconscious by the Wildcat Creek under the railroad bridge behind Future Park on Oct. 10, 2017. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune
Narcan syringes between the legs of a victim who was revived from a drug overdose before being strapped to a rescue stretcher. Kokomo police and fire along with medics responded to three people found unconscious by the Wildcat Creek under the railroad bridge behind Future Park on Oct. 10, 2017. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune
Larrisa Mauermann’s best friend had been sober for four years. That all changed when her friend’s girlfriend showed up.

The girlfriend overdosed inside the friend’s apartment the same night she was released from jail. Mauermann’s friend administered the opioid-reversal drug Narcan and called 911.

Police on scene saved the girlfriend, but told Mauermann’s friend if they ever responded to another drug incident at her apartment, they would call her corrections officer. The friend was on house arrest for drug possession.

The incident led Mauermann’s friend to relapse. The next night, she also overdosed. There was no more Narcan in the apartment and her girlfriend didn’t call 911 because she didn’t want to go back to jail.

The next day, the friend was found dead in the bathroom by her sister.

“She was a very well-loved person,” Mauermann said. “The entire town knew that her girlfriend had left her, so the following week, her girlfriend took her own life in the form of an overdose.”


To call or not to call 911? To risk arrest or risk a death? Those are the questions drug users face when a friend, family member or acquaintance is experiencing an overdose.

Nearly every state has enacted Good Samaritan laws aimed at erasing those questions. The varying policies all provide some kind of legal immunity to those who call 911 or seek medical help during an overdose.

But Indiana’s law is one of the most restrictive in the nation.

It’s the only state that requires a caller to first administer legally-obtained Narcan, also known as naloxone, in order to qualify for immunity. That legal protection only extends to six specific drug possession crimes, leaving the door wide open for other charges.

Indiana is also just one of four states that offers protections only to the person seeking medical help for someone else. Out of the 48 states that have a Good Samaritan law, 40 also extend some kind of legal immunity to the person overdosing.

The criteria for legal protection are so narrow in Indiana that it’s practically nonexistent, argued Antonia Sawyer, founder of a nonprofit that provides free Narcan to Hoosiers called Ship Happens.

That mostly hinges on the fact that those who need naloxone the most still often struggle to find it, she explained, barring them from immunity and making their arrest a very real possibility.

“When we know that people who use drugs are the first responders at an overdose … and we know there is not adequate access to naloxone, it appears intentional that legislators would create this caveat to further criminalize those who use drugs,” she said.

The ultimate fallout of the state’s policy is fewer people calling 911 during an emergency, leading to more people dying from an overdose, Sawyer argued.

That comes as overdose deaths in Indiana hit record highs. In 2020, when the COVID pandemic hit, over 2,300 Hoosiers died from a drug overdose compared to 1,700 in 2019. That climbed to a record 2,800 deaths in 2021 before dropping to 2,250 last year.

Nationally, drug overdoses killed over 109,000 Americans last year – the highest number ever reported. That’s 61,000 more deaths than just three years earlier.


It’s unclear what kind of impact, if any, Indiana’s Good Samaritan law has had on reducing overdose deaths.

The state and criminal justice groups don’t have data on how many Hoosiers have avoided arrest and prosecution under the statute. There’s also no statistics on when, during an overdose emergency, the criteria are met that could open up legal immunity.

That makes it difficult to gauge the effects of the policy, according to Rick Frank, the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council’s drug resource prosecutor.

“We’re kind of measuring a negative,” he said. “These would be cases that don’t get filed, and we don’t keep stats on the number of cases not filed.”

It’s also unclear how many law enforcement officers and prosecutors are even aware of the law, which passed in 2016 as part of the state’s push to expand access to naloxone.

The policy is taught to new officers in the criminal law course at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, according to the agencies General Council, Raquel Ramirez. She is the instructor and said she provides information on “Safe Harbor” statutes for alcohol and drug offenses.

Frank said he believes most law enforcement officers are aware of the policy, but it rarely comes into play due to the stipulation the caller has to use naloxone to receive protection.

“I just get the feeling that it’s not applied that much, because it doesn’t happen that much,” he said. “I think prosecutors would certainly apply the law if it did happen.”

A case in point: Sawyer with Ship Happens reached out to Clinton County Prosecutor Anthony Sommer in 2021 over concerns a person was arrested on drug possession charges despite calling 911 during an overdose.

Sommer said information provided by police indicated officers issued the naloxone, not the caller. He also noted evidenced showed the caller had given the syringe and opiates to the person who overdosed.

“It strikes me that providing opiates and a syringe without prescription to another person is criminal and is otherwise grossly negligent such that it cannot be provided protection under the Good Samaritan law,” he wrote in an email to Sawyer.

Sawyer said criminalizing those who do the right thing and call 911 goes against the spirit of the Good Samaritan statute.

“Our Good Samaritan law was created to encourage lay persons to call 9-1-1 and save lives; which was done in this case,” she wrote in an email to Sommer. “I believe the Good Samaritan in this case acted appropriately and in good faith.”


But one Indiana prosecutor has taken an opposite approach to save lives.

Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton announced in 2020 that officers would deliberately arrest the person overdosing if drugs were found in their system.

Indiana law provides that the presence of drugs in a person’s body is equal to drug possession and can be charged as such, he explained. Officers were instructed to pursue warrants for blood draws from those surviving an overdose.

The goal wasn’t to put an overdose victim in jail, Eaton explained, but to get addicts into rehab through the criminal-justice system to “break the never-ending cycle of these incidents.” He said in some cases, officers responded to the same person overdosing within days.

At the same time, officers were instructed not to arrest those calling 911.

“I’ve had some people voicing their opposition to this,” Eaton said. “They say, ‘You’re trying to criminalize addiction or you’re trying to criminalize people helping people that overdosed. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The initiative resulted in some early success, according to Eaton. But issues stemming from COVID, like backlogged court cases and officer turnover, have made the policy harder to implement. Still, he’s hopeful it can gain traction again in Hancock County.

“I would agree that, generally speaking, you’re not going to arrest your way out of the nationwide narcotics problem,” he said. “But it’s a tool among many tools that need to work in concert if we’re going to begin to turn things around.”

Sen. Rodney Pol, D-Chesterton, agrees that for some, the criminal justice system is the only way to break the cycle of addiction. But the former public defender argues arrest shouldn’t be the default policy when responding to a drug overdose.

“We’re there to save lives,” he said. “I think Good Samaritan laws are a way to encourage people to do the right thing, even if they feel like what they’re doing is the wrong thing.”

But with legal protection tied to administering naloxone, there’s little to encourage people to call 911 in Indiana’s policy, Pol argued. If those who use drugs do the right thing and call for help but end up in jail, the law could actually disincentive people to reach out.

“I think it’s very short sighted,” he said. “The assumption is somebody is going to be in the right mindset to follow the specific requirements of the law in order to not be prosecuted, and I think that’s just not how reality works.”


Indiana’s Republican-authored Good Samaritan law received bipartisan support when it passed in 2016.

States started implementing the policies in various forms in around 2010 to combat the spike in overdose deaths as the opioid epidemic took hold in communities around the U.S.

In recent years, some states have expanded their Good Samaritan laws to make it easier to receive legal protection as overdose deaths skyrocket yet again due to the rise in fentanyl use. The drug is 50 times more potent than heroin and often mixed in with cocaine, meth or other opioids.

Last year, lawmakers in Maine voted to make immunity the default, not the exception, by providing protection from arrest and prosecution for all but a handful of crimes for both the caller and the person overdosing.

That hasn’t been the approach in Indiana.

Rather than expanding the Good Samaritan law, legislators in 2018 approved a bill that makes dealing a controlled substance resulting in death a Level 1 felony punishable by up to 40 years in prison. The only higher charge is murder.

Frank with the Indiana attorneys council said his group has made a major push in the last two years to educate officers and prosecutors about the law. That’s resulted in a huge spike in dealers being charged under the statute, Frank noted.

The law follows the traditional war-on-drugs playbook by setting harsher penalties for dealers. What impact the statute will have in reducing drug overdoses remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Sen. Pol is advocating for expanding the Good Samaritan law to make it easier and more practical for people to qualify for legal protections. He said he would consider introducing legislation to do that.

After seeing around 10 of his childhood friends from East Chicago die from an overdose, Pol noted, something has to be done to save more lives.

“That pain never leaves,” he said. “People are finally seeing that addiction doesn’t discriminate. Addiction is everywhere.”

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