Press Release  | 12/11/2012

District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray Signs 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 D.C., Ahead of Traffic Accidents

D.C. Coalition of Advocates, Students, Parents and Community Providers Commends Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council for Approving This Life Saving Legislation

On Friday, District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray signed the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act of 2012 (#B19-754). The legislation, which was approved by the Council of the District of Columbia in November and sponsored by Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-Chairman) and Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), provides limited legal protection for those who witness or experience a drug overdose and summon medical assistance.  The legislation now goes before the United States Congress for review as required by federal law. A coalition comprised of the Drug Policy Alliance, American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital, Bread for the City, HIPS, students, parents and advocates supported this legislation.

"The District has the highest rate of drug use in the nation, so residents are especially at risk of experiencing a life-threatening overdose, and hundreds of residents have been lost in recent years,” said Grant Smith, federal policy coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance. "This law will encourage residents to seek medical help for people who urgently need it."

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 sought in only half of all overdose emergencies.  The Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Amendment Act specifies that drug possession and similar minor offenses are not crimes when a witness calls 911 in an overdose emergency.

Ten states (California, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Washington State) have already enacted Good Samaritan laws for preventing fatal drug overdoses. Nationally, drug overdose rates have tripled since 1990, and increased more than 140 percent between 2000 and 2009. In recent years, cocaine has been the lead cause of overdose death in D.C., followed by heroin and other opiates. District of Columbia Medical Examiner data indicate that African American residents are at greatest risk of experiencing a fatal overdose.

Contact:  Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Grant Smith 202-421-5031

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