California’s New ‘Good Samaritan’ Overdose Prevention Law Goes into Effect January 1, 2013

Press Release December 16, 2012
Media Contact

Contact: Meghan Ralston 323-681-5224</p>

SACRAMENTO, CA—A new law in California that encourages witnesses at the scene of a suspected drug or alcohol overdose to seek emergency assistance right away without fear of arrest for minor drug law violations goes into effect on January 1, 2013. The law, commonly referred to in other states as ‘911 Good Samaritan,’ was introduced by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and passed in 2012 with bipartisan support. California becomes the tenth state to pass a law encouraging people to call 911 for help for suspected overdose victims.

California’s  911 Good Samaritan law provides limited protections from arrest and prosecution for low-level drug law violations at the scene of an overdose, including possession of small amounts of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Those who sell drugs are not protected under the new law and existing laws prohibiting drug-related violations, such as drugged driving, remain unchanged.

“Reassuring all Californians that calling 911 is safe and the right thing to do when someone’s life is on the line is essential,” said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. While people should feel confident that they won’t get in trouble for small amounts of drugs when they call for help, the range of the protections provided under the new law is very limited and very specific. “This isn’t a get-out-jail-free card for people who sell or traffic large quantities of drugs. This law basically says, ‘If you have a small amount of drugs in your possession, or the person overdosing does, don’t let your fear of arrest for that be the reason you fail to call 911 to help save someone’s life,” said Ralston.

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.

The bill was co-sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance, California ACLU and the Health Officers Association of California. Other states with similar laws include New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida, and most recently, the District of Columbia.

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

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