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When to Call 911 and "Good Samaritan" Laws

Updated: May 30, 2023

The operative advice is when in doubt, call 911. Here are specific tips as to what to do, depending on the person's condition and state. If a person is conscious and responsive ...

  • Stay with them. Check often to make sure they are still conscious and responsive.

  • Make certain that they stay on their side, not their back. See the Bacchus Maneuver (pictured to the right and described below).

  • Before you touch them, tell them exactly what you are going to do. Be aware of any signs of aggression. Do not ridicule, judge, threaten, or try to counsel them.

  • Remain calm and be firm. Avoid communicating feelings of anxiety or anger.

  • Keep them quiet and comfortable. If they are in the sun, move them to the shade. If cold, move them to a warm place and offer a blanket.

  • Don't give them food, drink, or medication of any kind.

  • Remember that only time will sober up a person under the influence. Walking, showering, or drinking coffee will not help and may actually cause harm.

If the person is unconscious, semi-conscious, or unresponsive ...

Check for these symptoms of alcohol or drug overdose:

  • Cannot be roused and is unresponsive to your voice, shaking, or pinching their skin.

  • Skin is cold, clammy, pale, bluish, and/or blotchy.

  • Breathing is slow - eight or fewer breaths per minute.

  • Experience lapses in breathing - more than 10 seconds between breaths.

  • Exhibit mental confusion, stupor, or coma.

  • Have seizures, convulsions, or rigid spasms.|

  • Vomit while asleep or unconscious and do not awaken.

If any of these symptoms of overdose exist, call 911 for help, and while waiting for emergency personnel:

  • Gently turn them onto their side and into the Bacchus Maneuver (below).

  • Don't leave them alone at any time and be prepared to administer CPR.

  • Remember that there is a chance that a person who has passed out may not ever regain consciousness and there is a serious risk that death could occur.

The Bacchus Maneuver

  1. Raise the arm that is closest to you above their head. Prepare to roll them towards you.

2. Gently roll them toward you, guarding their head from hitting the floor. The head should rest in front of the arm, not on it.

3. Tilt the head up to maintain airway. Tuck their nearest hand under the cheek to help maintain head tilt and raise the face off the floor.

4. Check on them often.

Calling for Help - "911 Good Samaritan Laws" in California It's common for people, especially minors, to fear the consequences of their own arrest when seeking emergency medical assistance for a friend or family member who may be in danger. In the United States, when someone needs medical assistance, a call for help occurs less than 50% of the time.

In California, an underage person who calls 911 to report possible alcohol

poisoning and cooperates with paramedics and law enforcement once they arrive will be immune from prosecution, under minor in possession laws, provided that:

  • The underage person calls 911 to report that they or another person was in need of medical assistance due to alcohol consumption;

  • The underage person was the first person to call 911;

  • The underage person remains on the scene until medical assistance arrived; and

  • The underage person cooperates with those who were providing medical assistance and any on-scene law enforcement officers.

Note that there may be no such immunity for adults who knowingly supply alcohol to minors. However, an adult 21 years of age or older who meets the above requirements should not be held liable under social host ordinances.

Please share this information with your teens, including those who are about to start or return to college. It may save a life!

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