Bipartisan Support as California Legislature Passes Bill to Help Prevent Drug Overdose Deaths

Press Release August 26, 2012
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SACRAMENTO, CA—Today, by an overwhelming margin (50 Aye – 20 No), the California legislature passed Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s ‘911 Good Samaritan Overdose Response Act’ (AB 472), which provides limited protection against arrest for minor drug law violations for anyone who summons emergency medical assistance to prevent a fatal overdose. The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk for his decision.

“The demographic of addiction and drug overdose has gone through a sudden transformation in California,” said the bill’s author Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). “In suburban areas, the emergency rooms and addiction centers are seeing more and more overdose among teens and young adults… This will protect all our communities.”

Advocates are applauding the passage of the life-saving bill, just days before International Overdose Awareness Day (August 31). “The instinct to call 911 should always be immediate when witnessing a life-or-death situation. Our current policies cause people to waste time wondering about the consequences of seeking emergency help,” said Meghan Ralston, Harm Reduction Manager of the Drug Policy Alliance.  “Lives are lost in the minutes when the decision to call 911 is debated.  This Good Samaritan law will encourage people to get medical assistance immediately.”

Five Republican members joined 48 Democrats in support. Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto) said regarding the passage of the bill, “It is critically important…as a mother, a human being and a Christian, I know we all make mistakes.” Olsen went on to say she wouldn’t want a family member of hers to die from such a mistake.  In a bipartisan show of support, Olsen joined four other Republicans in voting to pass the bill. They join Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack as advocates for this reform.

Drug poisoning overdose remains a major public health problem and a leading cause of accidental death in California. According to the California Department of Public Health, in 2009, more Californians died from drug poisoning than from motor vehicle accidents. Fear of arrest and prosecution often prevents people who are in a position to help from calling 911; as a result, help is called in only half of all overdose emergencies. AB 472 would provide limited protection from arrest and prosecution a witness who calls 911 to save a life, but only for three low-level violations: possession for personal use;  being under the influence; and possession of paraphernalia. Assemblymember Ammiano stressed that it does not protect for arrest for furnishing or selling drugs, driving under the influence, or any other crime.

New York, Illinois, Washington State, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut have already passed 911 Good Samaritan policies for drug overdoses and similar measures are currently pending in others.

Californians impacted by the tragedy of overdose from across the state are urging the Governor to sign the bill. Their stories are available at

The Good Samaritan Overdose Response Act (AB 472) is supported by a long list of public health organizations, treatment providers and advocacy groups including: California Society of Addiction Medicine; California Attorneys for Criminal Justice; California Professional Firefighters; California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives; County Alcohol and Drug Program Administrators Association of California; National Council of Alcohol and Drug Dependence of the San Fernando Valley; National Association of Social Workers; Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team; Bay Area Addiction Research and Treatment; Families ACT!; Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing; and Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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