Among California’s new laws taking effect Jan. 1 will be a “Good Samaritan” law, encouraging witnesses of suspected drug or alcohol overdoses to seek emergency aid without fear of arrest.
The law neither penalizes those who don’t call for help, nor is a blanket protection against arrest – for example, those who sell drugs aren’t protected. But it does ensure that you won’t get busted for personal possession if you call 911 on behalf of an endangered friend.
“Reassuring all Californians that calling 911 is safe and the right thing to do when someone’s life is on the line is essential,” Meghan Ralston, the Drug Policy Alliance’s harm reduction manager, said in a news release today. “While people should feel confident that they won’t get in trouble for small amounts of drugs when they call for help, the range of the protections provided under the new law is very limited and very specific. This isn’t a get-out-jail-free card for people who sell or traffic large quantities of drugs. This law basically says, ‘If you have a small amount of drugs in your possession, or the person overdosing does, don’t let your fear of arrest for that be the reason you fail to call 911 to help save someone’s life.”
As in many other states, drug overdose fatalities are California’s leading cause of accidental injury-related death, beating out even motor vehicle deaths. Studies have found most people overdose in the presence of others, yet many onlookers either delay or don’t call at all for emergency services, often because they fear their own arrest.