D.C. Law to Help Prevent Overdose Deaths To Take Effect; D.C. Joins Ten States in Passing Good Samaritan Law

Press Release March 17, 2013
Media Contact

<p>Contact: Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Grant Smith 202-421-5031</p>

On Tuesday, March 19th, a new District of Columbia law takes effect that provides limited legal protection for those who witness or experience a drug overdose and summon medical assistance. The majority of overdose victims are in the presence of others and do not die until several hours after they have taken a drug, meaning that there is both time and opportunity to summon medical assistance.  Fear of arrest and prosecution often prevents people who are in a position to help from calling 911.

“Criminalization should not be a barrier to calling 911,” said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "This new law will help encourage District residents who witness an overdose to pick up the phone and help save a life."

The Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act of 2012 (#A19-564) directs the D.C. Department of Health to educate the public about the new law and specifies that:

Ten states (California, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Washington State) have already enacted Good Samaritan laws for preventing fatal drug overdoses. Good Samaritan legislation is currently pending in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Missouri and other states. A coalition comprised of the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital, Bread for the City, HIPS, students from the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services and GW Law Students for Sensible Drug Policy, parents and advocates supported passage of the Good Samaritan law.

“Implementation of this new law by public health and law enforcement officials is critical to improving public willingness to immediately seek medical assistance for overdoses involving illegal drug and alcohol use,” said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance.

Nationally, drug overdose rates have increased more than five times since 1990, and increased more than 150 percent between 2000 and 2010. In recent years, cocaine has been the lead cause of overdose death in D.C., followed by heroin and other opiates. District of Columbia Medical Examiner data indicate that African American residents are at greatest risk of experiencing a fatal overdose.

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

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