Too often a witness to an overdose will hesitate to call 911 because of fear of prosecution. Whether they are using too, or have drugs (or drug paraphernalia) on them, they think first about avoiding the police, and only second about calling for help for the victim. The California legislature, at the lead of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D San Francisco), is aiming to change this trend.
The 911 Good Samaritan Overdose Response Act is the legislation he has sponsored, in hopes that people will be more likely to get victims the medical attention that they need in the case of an overdose. This law does not protect witnesses from all charges, but merely three specific, lower-level charges; possession of paraphernalia, possession for personal use, and being under the influence. Even this small change, it is hoped, will vastly increase the likelihood that 911 will be called and that an overdosing user can be saved.
The California bill was passed in an overwhelming bipartisan effort, with only 20 of 70 legislators voting nay. This bill is now on the governor’s desk waiting for approval. If the governor signs the bill into law, California will be the tenth US state to enact a 911 Good Samaritan bill, with the other states being:
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
- New York
- Washington State
… and similar bills are pending in the houses of other states around the country.
Legislators have passed these bills in hopes of lowering the numbers of drug overdose deaths, which have grown drastically over the last few years. More Californians died of drug overdoses than in traffic accidents in 2009, according to the California Department of Public Health. Clearly that is a trend that legislators want to stop, and this bill is one of many efforts to stem this tide.
911 services are meant to save lives, but when people are afraid to use them, this can’t happen. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, like many others, clearly feels that it is the state’s job to protect their citizens’ lives first, over any efforts at prosecution.
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