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New York State Passes ‘911 Good Samaritan’ Law to Fight Overdose

New York state became the largest state in the nation to adopt a “911 Good Samaritan” law to fight overdose.  The law bars arrests and prosecution for personal possession of drugs, paraphernalia or underage drinking when someone calls for help to save the life of an overdose victim.

New York is among the many states where accidental overdose deaths outnumber automobile-related fatalities.  Accidental overdose is a huge, silent crisis in New York and across the United States. But most of these deaths are preventable.  Most drug overdoses occur in the home and in the presence of others and take several hours to cause death.  911 calls are often delayed as witnesses try ineffective methods of reviving people such as slapping them or dousing them with cold water.  While fatal accidental drug overdoses can be prevented if emergency services are contacted soon enough, most people witnessing a drug overdose — whether the drugs used are legal or illegal — don’t call for emergency assistance. Why?

Studies have found that for those witnessing a drug overdose, the majority hesitate to call emergency services due to fear of police arrest or criminal prosecution for drug possession. In short, people are afraid of calling 911 for fear of arrest, leading to thousands of deaths every year.

To encourage people to seek help, New York’s 911 Good Samaritan seeks to alleviate any fears associated with calling 911 in an overdose emergency. The law provides limited protections from charge and prosecution for possession of small amounts of drugs. It also protects against arrest for misdemeanor amounts of drugs (these are minute, residual amounts), and offers protection from charge and prosecution for “sharing,” which in New York — as well as other states — is considered a sales offense. Those who possess large amounts of drugs, or are selling drugs, are not protected under the new provision.