Press Release  | 06/27/2012

District of Columbia Judiciary Committee Considers Legislation that Would Help Prevent Drug Overdose Deaths

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Legislation Encourages Calling 911 in Drug Overdose Cases; Overdose Second Leading Cause of Accidental Death in DC, Ahead of Traffic Accidents

DC Coalition of Advocates, Students, Parents and Community Providers Support Passage of This Life-Saving Legislation

Today, the Council on the District of Columbia’s Committee on the Judiciary will consider the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act of 2012 (#B19-754), which provides limited legal protection for those who witness a drug overdose and summon medical assistance.  The hearing will be held today, June 27th at 11:00 a.m. in Committee Room 120 on the first floor of the Wilson Building.

Overdose is a major public health problem and the second leading cause of accidental death in the District of Columbia.  The majority of overdose victims do not actually die until several hours after they have taken a drug and most of these deaths occur in the presence of others, meaning that there is both time and opportunity to summon medical assistance.  Unfortunately, fear of arrest and prosecution often prevents people who are in a position to help from calling 911.  As a result, help is called for in only half of all overdose emergencies.  The Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act would provide limited protection from arrest and prosecution for drug possession and similar minor crimes for a witness who calls 911 in an overdose emergency.

Advocates are urging committee members to support this life-saving bill.  "The District has the highest rate of drug use in the nation, so residents are especially at-risk of experiencing a life-threatening overdose,” said Grant Smith, federal policy coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance.  “These deaths are entirely preventable.  A Good Samaritan law in DC will clarify that calling 911 to try to save a life should never be a crime."

Eight states, New York, Illinois, Washington State, Rhode Island, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico, and Connecticut, have already enacted Good Samaritan laws for drug overdoses and similar measures are currently pending in several others.

This legislation is sponsored by Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-Chairman) and Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).

The Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act is supported by Bread for the City, Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, START at Westminster, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and The Women’s Collective.

  • Nationally, drug overdose rates have tripled since 1990, and increased more than 140 percent between 2000 and 2008.
  • Nearly 900 District residents have died from a drug overdose since 2003.
  • In 2009, two District residents died every week on average from a drug overdose.

Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Grant Smith 202-669-6573

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