Law Encourages People to Call 911 During An Overdose by Providing Limited Immunity for Low- Level Drug Law Violations
California Becomes Largest State in U.S. to Enact Legislation Aimed at Curbing National Overdose Crisis
DPA Press release 9/17/12 – Sacramento
Today, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation seeking to reduce the number of preventable deaths resulting from accidental drug overdoses. The passage of Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s AB 472, the “911 Good Samaritan bill,” received bipartisan support and makes California the tenth state in the country to take action to reduce accidental overdose fatalities by removing barriers to accessing emergency health services.
Other states with similar laws include New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Florida. The bill was co-sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, California ACLU and the Health Officers Association of California. The law takes effect on January 1, 2013.
“This is a great victory for parents. None of us want our kids overdosing on drugs, but as I told the legislature, I’d rather have my kid around to yell at than attend a funeral,” said Ammiano. “The young friends of those who overdose shouldn’t hesitate to seek help because they fear arrest. With the Governor’s signature, they won’t have to.”
Hundreds of advocates worked to champion versions of the bill for many years. Today, they cheered the news of the passage of law. “This is an incredibly special day for the thousands of California family members who worked so hard and for so long to pass this life-saving bill,” said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager of the Drug Policy Alliance. “This is just a small first step in reducing the number of fatal overdoses in California, but it’s a deeply important one.”
California is among the many states where drug overdose fatalities are the number one cause of accidental injury-related death, surpassing even motor vehicle deaths. Although studies indicate that most people overdose in the presence of others, many people either delay or do not call for emergency services. Numerous studies have shown that the number one reason that people hesitate or fail to call 911 in an overdose situation is fear of arrest for drug possession. To encourage people to seek emergency health services in the event of an accidental overdose, California’s 911 Good Samaritan law provides limited protections from charge and prosecution for low-level drug law violations, including possession of small amounts of drugs. Those who sell drugs are not protected under the new law.
“I never go a day without thinking of my son Jeff and I never will,” said Denise Cullen, co-founder of GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing). “Losing a child to a drug overdose is a tragedy in ways I can’t explain, but fighting so hard for him and for all the parents just like me, to get this law passed is really the best possible way I can honor him.”
With the enactment of this law, California's elected officials send a strong message that accidental drug overdose is a health issue, and that fear of criminal justice involvement should not be a barrier to calling 911 in the event of an overdose.
“After forty years of the war on drugs, California is finally righting its priorities by putting saving lives ahead of making petty arrests. The message is loud and clear: call for help in case of an overdose. This is an important step toward better drug and public health policies and it will save lives,” said Margaret Dooley- Sammuli, senior policy advocate for the ACLU of California.
“The physician Health Officers who provide leadership for public health programs in every county are grateful to Governor Brown for partnering with us on this common sense, no-cost approach to saving lives,” said Bruce Pomer, executive director of Health Officers Association of California. "It's urgently needed."
A New PATH and other overdose prevention advocates will join dozens of organizations throughout 2013 in helping to get the word out and raise awareness of the new law.