Recent Tragic Deaths Show the UAE Needs a Compassionate Law for Drug Emergencies

The United Arab Emirates has a strong prohibition on drugs. But unfortunately, this does not mean that drug-related emergencies are uncommon. Recent examples show that a creative solution is needed to address the problem. The worst consequence of a drug-related emergency–that is, death prevented through policies which encourage people to call for help. The UAE has the perfect opportunity for such a policy: specifically, I believe the UAE needs to introduce a Good Samaritan Law for drug emergencies.


Consider the recent case of an overdose death in a Fujairah hotel. The incident left one man dead and another two–a friend and apparent family member–on trial for involvement with the man’s death, and for drug abuse. In incidents like these, medical services are often not immediately called, for justified fear of legal prosecution–they individuals were, after all, breaking the law.


Now, let’s reimagine this tragedy unfolded differently–this time, with a Good Samaritan Law: the friend and family member of the overdosing man, legally protected under the Good Samaritan Law, call for an ambulance at the first sign of trouble. Medical services are able to reach the individual experiencing the emergency quickly and effectively. Nobody delays calling for help. Nobody dies.


So-called ‘Good Samaritan’ Laws, which offer legal amnesty for individuals who call for help during drug emergencies, exist in many countries around the world. This is because they help save lives during emergency situations (like overdoses).


The UAE’s recent massive overhaul of its civil laws aims to further make the nation more accessible for the many nationalities which call the UAE home. The overhaul includes reforms on divorce and family law, decriminalization of alcohol, and other measures to address social problems and quality of life. Notably, it also includes a ‘Good Samaritan’ Law on suicide which decriminalizes suicide and guarantees legal protection and medical treatment for those who attempt to end their lives. With the language of Good Samaritan policies officially codified in UAE law, evidence shows Good Samaritan Laws are also extremely effective at targeting drug-related emergencies.


Fear of prosecution prevents people who experience or witness an emergency from calling for help. Good Samaritan Laws work by increasing the likelihood that people will call for medical help during an overdose or similar emergency by offering various levels of legal immunity to those involved. Sometimes this means protection from criminal prosecution, or perhaps alternatives to prosecution such as rehabilitation. Regardless, Good Samaritan Laws save lives by addressing fear of police; one study cited fear of police as the most common reason people delay or altogether decline calling for help.


The country’s strict reputation on drugs creates fear amongst drug users and those around them, posing a risk to the lives of drug users if people hesitate to call for help. Good Samaritan Laws have the power to change this, especially given that drug-related deaths are on the rise.


An ideal law would provide complete, unconditional amnesty to both the caller(s) and the individual in distress, because this effectively eliminates any risk of hesitancy in emergencies–situations where time is critical. Anything short may be less effective at preventing loss of life. Other options may include that those involved are not put in prison but given community service, or, even better, are offered rehabilitation treatment for addiction, if necessary. This outcome is better than prosecution and would show the UAE’s compassion as a nation. Most importantly, any of these outcomes are unambiguously better than death.


There is also legal precedent for a Good Samaritan Law for drug emergencies  Laws on drug use have changed in recent years to prioritize health and treatment over criminalization: in 2016, the UAE significantly amended its drug laws, decreasing drug-use charges to a misdemeanor offense. Alternatives to prison were created for “first-time offenders”, including medical treatment, community service, or a fine. A Good Samaritan Law would simply operate as an extension of these praiseworthy and compassionate changes in the law.


Moreover, the UAE already operates within the spirit of Good Samaritan Law. In 2019, the Dubai Ambulance Service had saved 14 people from drug overdoses by August with the life-saving drug Naloxone–often called “Narcan”–which rapidly reverses opioid overdoses. This was achieved through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Erada Center, a Dubai-based rehabilitation clinic, which effectively empowered first-responders with drug emergency policies and tools. This type of cooperation–and the life-saving outcome–is exactly what Good Samaritan Laws encourage.


A Good Samaritan Law represents a strong commitment to health and life, and its benefits would extend to all citizens and residents. Given the recent momentum created by the civil law overhaul, including similar policies towards suicide, now is an opportune time for the UAE to introduce a Good Samaritan Law for drug emergencies.


Ultimately, we know drug emergencies occur regardless of strong laws and best intentions. A Good Samaritan Law will help address this reality–and save many lives in the process.