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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Drug Users Who Overdose to Be Protected Under New Legislation

Posted By on Wed, Aug 29, 2012 at 8:45 AM

click to enlarge If you overdose, no need to worry about jail time when you call 911.
  • If you overdose, no need to worry about jail time when you call 911.

California legislators this week passed a bill that would allow drug users to seek medical attention without having to worry about getting arrested for being high or possessing a personal amount of an illegal substance. People helping the user get treatment would be granted the same immunity. Known as the "911 Good Samaritan" law, the policy is intended to prevent drug overdoses.


The bill, which passed both chambers with bipartisan support and awaits Gov. Jerry Brown's signature, would make California the 11th state to enact a 911 Good Samaritan policy (or the 12th, depending on whether Brown beats New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to the dotted line).

Somewhat counterintuitively, the bill impacts the behavior of drug users more than that of police officers. A 2011 University of Washington study (the state passed the law in 2010), found that drug users in the presence of an overdose often feared calling 911. Police officers, however, reported that they rarely made possession arrests in such situations.

According to the study, which surveyed people at a needle exchange, "42 percent of opiate users had witnessed an opiate overdose in the prior year," but in only half of those instances did somebody call 911. (Heroin was the opiate of choice for almost all the users.) When 911 was called, police made an arrest less than 1 percent of the time, based on respondents' recollections.

Indeed, among Washington police officers who said they had been at the scene of an overdose within the previous year, nearly two-thirds said that they did not make an arrest.

911 Good Samaritan laws essentially codify common sense practice, with the hopes of removing any hesitation to call authorities during a drug overdoes.

"According to the survey, 88 percent indicated that now that they were aware of the law they would be more likely to call 911 during future overdoses," the paper stated.

In arguments for the bill, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who authored the legislation, noted that California has the highest number of drug overdose deaths in the country.

"Numerous academic studies examining predictors of fatal drug overdose have shown that fear of arrest and incarceration among witnesses is the leading cause for delay or failure to seek emergency medical care in a potentially deadly drug or alcohol overdose," he wrote.

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Albert Samaha

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