Governor John Hickenlooper Signs 911 Good Samaritan Law to Reduce Drug and Alcohol Overdose Deaths in Colorado

Press Release May 29, 2012
Media Contact

Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Art Way 720-288-6924</p>

Denver – Yesterday, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law bipartisan legislation that seeks to reduce the number of preventable deaths resulting from accidental drug or alcohol overdoses. The new law comes after years in which overdose was the leading cause of accidental death in Colorado.

In recent years, the number of deaths from both illegal and legal drugs has skyrocketed.  Colorado is ranked in the top third in the country regarding overdose deaths. Tragically, most of these deaths are preventable. Although studies indicate that most people overdose in the presence of others, most people do not call for emergency services.

Numerous studies have shown that the number one reason that people don't call 911 in an overdose situation is fear of arrest and criminal prosecution for drug possession. To encourage people to seek emergency health services in the event of an accidental overdose,  Colorado’s Good Samaritan law provides limited protections from charge and prosecution for possession of small amounts of drugs. Those who sell drugs are not protected under the new law.

“It is uplifting to see our elected officials come together to pass a law that will save thousands of lives in Colorado,” said Art Way, Colorado manager of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Although the proposal met with some questionable compromises our elected officials should be applauded for passing this law and continuing a trend in Colorado to address drug policy from a public health perspective.”

The original version protected against arrest, not just prosecution. It also protected more than one reporter.  Unfortunately, and despite bi-partisan support for the original version, these protections were cut before the bill reached the House floor.  Advocates are confident a practical protection for arrest still exists as it is unethical to arrest if a reporter satisfies the requirements within the new law.  More importantly, there is now a standard in Colorado concerning prosecution for the charges of use and possession at the scene of an overdose.

The house sponsor was Ken Summers (R, Lakewood). Senator Irene Aguilar (D, Denver) was the original sponsor and her leadership and experience as an MD proved valuable.  With the enactment of this law, Colorado’s elected officials sent a strong message that drug and alcohol overdose in Colorado is a public health issue, and that fear of criminal justice involvement should not be a barrier to callings 911 in the event of an overdose.

“On behalf of the Harm Reduction Action Center and the community that we serve, we thank the Colorado legislature for making SB 20 a priority,” said Lisa Raville, executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center. “Colorado overdoses have tripled in the last 10 years and we hope to never have to add any more names to our ever-growing overdose memorial at the Harm Reduction Action Center.”

Because accidental overdose fatalities have struck Coloradans all across the state, parents, student and community groups and health experts from around the state – in urban, suburban, and rural areas alike – endorsed the passage of the new law.  Landmark 911 Good Samaritan legislation became law in New Mexico in 2007, and Washington State enacted its law in 2010. Earlier this year, Illinois passed its own Good Samaritan law. Other states – like Connecticut, Florida, New York also passed similar measures that prioritize saving lives by removing barriers to seeking medical help during an overdose.

“The Colorado legislature made it clear that saving lives is a priority,” Way said. “Drug Policy Alliance and allies such as the Harm Reduction Action Center plan to ensure that this law saves lives by properly educating law enforcement and the general public about the priority of calling 911 during an overdose.”

The law went into effect upon the Governor’s signature.

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

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