Washington to Become Second State with Overdose Protection Law

Press Release March 9, 2010
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Meghan Ralston at 323-681-5224

On Wednesday, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign a bill that will protect people calling 911 when witnessing a drug overdose. Washington will join New Mexico as the second state in the country with this life-saving legislation.

Accidental drug overdoses cause the death of more than 26,000 Americans every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, drug overdose now ranks as a leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., second only to motor-vehicle accidents.

“This law will save lives,” said Meghan Ralston of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The majority of people who overdose are in the company of others, but don’t get help because people are afraid to call 911 out of fear of arrest.”

This new Washington legislation will provide limited immunity from prosecution for simple drug possession for people who call 911 to report an overdose, as well as for the victim of overdose. The new law also focuses attention on naloxone, the overdose reversal drug, by allowing people to possess and administer it to people overdosing on opioid drugs, such as Vicodin.

“I’m so pleased we were able to steer this important bill to enactment,” said Roger Goodman, State Representative for Washington’s 45th District. “Washington State holds the unfortunate distinction as the nation’s leader in overdose deaths, so it’s an urgent matter for us to reduce the harm. From the beginning we had support from the state Medical Association and from many parents who have tragically lost children to overdoses, and in the end we were able to ease the concerns of law enforcement and garner their support.”

Numerous states have introduced or are looking into overdose protection laws including: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York and Rhode Island. On the federal level, Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD) has introduced the Drug Overdose Reduction Act, which would establish an innovative grants program for organizations across the country working to prevent drug overdose.

“There is an overdose crisis in this country and it is encouraging that states are starting to address this situation,” said Ralston. “It should never be a crime to call 911 and to try to save someone’s life.”

For more information about solutions to the overdose crisis in the United States, see the Drug Policy Alliance’s major report Preventing Overdose, Saving Lives.

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

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