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Loudoun County Attorneys > Blog > Drug Crimes > Can I Face Criminal Charges for Reporting an Overdose in Virginia?

Can I Face Criminal Charges for Reporting an Overdose in Virginia?


In the Commonwealth of Virginia and across the United States, many overdoses go unreported due to fear of prosecution for a drug crime or other offenses. This is a particularly dangerous reality, as drug and alcohol overdoses result in numerous deaths each year. To encourage people to seek emergency medical attention in these situations, Virginia provides a mechanism for the safe reporting of overdoses.

What is the Definition of an Overdose in Virginia?

Code of Virginia Section 18.2-251.03 establishes the definition of an overdose. Under this section, an overdose refers to a life-threatening condition that results from the consumption or use of:

  • Alcohol;
  • Illegal Drugs; or
  • Alcohol and illegal drugs combined.

When a person consumes or uses these substances and experiences a serious risk of death, it qualifies as an overdose under Virginia law.

What are the Requirements for the Safe Reporting of Overdoses?

When an overdose occurs, Section 18.2-251.03 allows a person to report the overdose without fear of certain criminal consequences. But this exemption is available if the person reporting the overdose:

  • Makes a good faith effort to seek emergency medical attention by reporting the overdose to the appropriate authorities, including law enforcement officers, firefighters, and paramedics;
  • Remains at the scene of the overdose and complies with any instructions from law enforcement; and
  • Identifies themselves to law enforcement as the person who reported the overdose.

There is one additional consideration under Section 18.2-251.03. The reporting exemption only concerns evidence collected as a result of seeking emergency medical attention. If law enforcement uncovers evidence through other means, the person reporting the overdose can face criminal charges.

Which Crimes Qualify for the Safe Reporting of Overdoses?

As detailed in Section 18.2-251.03, only certain drug crimes qualify for exemption under the safe reporting of overdoses. Any person who safely reports an overdose can claim an affirmative defense in a prosecution for:

  • Unlawful purchase, possession, or consumption of alcohol (Code of Virginia Section 4.1-305);
  • Public intoxication (Code of Virginia Section 18.2-388);
  • Unlawful possession of illegal drugs (Code of Virginia Section 18.2-250);
  • Unlawful possession of marijuana (Code of Virginia Section 18.2-250.1); or
  • Unlawful possession of controlled paraphernalia (Code of Virginia Section 54.1-3466).

The safe reporting of overdoses under Section 18.2-251.03 does not apply to any criminal offenses outside of those listed above. For example, the distribution, manufacture, or sale of illegal drugs does not qualify for this affirmative defense, even if the offender safely reported an overdose.

Additionally, the safe reporting exemption does not apply to the execution of a valid search warrant or a lawful arrest. In other words, a person cannot report an overdose to escape the consequences of a search warrant or arrest.

Do You Need Legal Help?

If you need legal help with charges for a Virginia drug crime, it can be thoroughly productive to speak with a qualified criminal defense lawyer. The Leesburg drug crime lawyers at Simms Showers LLP have multifaceted experience defending against various drugs crimes across Virginia. If you need legal help with criminal defense, contact us today for a free initial consultation.


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