Press Release  | 07/21/2011

Governor Andrew Cuomo Signs 911 Good Samaritan Law to Reduce Drug and Alcohol Overdose Deaths in New York

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Law Encourages People to Call 911 During An Overdose by Providing Shield From Charge and Prosecution for Drug or Alcohol Possession

New York Becomes Largest State in U.S. Enacting Legislation Aimed at Curbing National Overdose Crisis

New York – Yesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law bipartisan legislation that seeks to reduce the number of preventable deaths resulting from accidental drug or alcohol overdoses. The bipartisan legislation makes New York the largest state in the country to take aggressive action to curb accidental overdose fatalities by removing barriers to accessing emergency health services.

A national overdose crisis has emerged in recent years as the number of deaths from both illegal and legal drugs has skyrocketed. New York is among the many states where drug overdose fatalities are the number one accidental death, surpassing even motor vehicle 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 show 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,  New York's 911 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.

"No one should go to jail for trying to save a life," said Hiawatha Collins, a leader and Board member of VOCAL-NY, one of the many groups that supported the reforms. "This law will help make sure that calling 911 is the first thing someone does if they witness an overdose - not worry about what the cops will do. New York is making clear that saving lives needs to be our priority, not locking people up.”

In a remarkable demonstration of bipartisanship, the bill – sponsored by Senator. John DeFrancisco (R, C, IP -  Syracuse) and Assemblymember. Dick Gottfried (D, WFP – Manhattan) – passed unanimously in the Senate and near-unanimously in the Assembly. With the enactment of this law, New York's elected officials send a strong message that drug and alcohol overdose in New York is a health issue, and that fear of criminal justice involvement should not be a barrier to callings 911 in the event of an overdose.

“It is uplifting to see our elected officials come together to pass a law that will save thousands of lives in New York,” said Evan Goldstein, policy coordinator of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Our elected officials should be applauded for passing this law that is grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.”

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

New York can ensure that this law saves lives by properly educating law enforcement and the general public about the priority of calling 911 during an overdose. New York's 911 Good Samaritan law will go into effect in 60 days.

Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or gabriel Sayegh 646-335-2264

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