New California Law for Overdose Victims

In the fight to save lives lost to drug overdoses, California has passed a law designed to lessen the impact of reporting an overdose by an individual. AB472 by Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, will decriminalize the consequences of receiving treatment for an overdose victim when they are treated in an emergency room or by emergency personnel. This will increase the likelihood that those who overdose on drugs will receive the treatment that they need, both at the time of the overdose, and possibly after the fact to deal with the substance abuse issues that may underlie the episode.

Without the consequences of being convicted for the possession and use of an illegal (or legal) substance and its subsequent abuse, it is hoped that those who would die because of an overdose will not. Called the "Good Samaritan Act," it is hoped that others who witness the overdose and would normally disappear rather than reporting it will come forward and not pay for their intervention by being prosecuted for being part of the use and overuse of the drugs. So many needless deaths may be avoided by this act.

Normally, police would be notified and act to arrest all those involved in a drug overdose for their possession and use. This bill, which goes into effect on January 1, 2013, will allow those who report the victim's situation, as well as the victim themselves immunity from criminal charges in order to encourage them to act on behalf of the overdose victims' behalf.

Many of those who recover from drug abuse, especially those who primarily abused pain medications such as morphine, heroin or their synthetic counterparts, can recall being in the vicinity and using drugs with another friend or associate who subsequently overdosed. It is not uncommon to hear them talk about being in a bind because of their own drug use and fear of reprisal if they helped the victim by calling someone who could treat them. Many also talk about taking someone to the Emergency Room of the local hospital and dropping them off in order to avoid exposure and prosecution for their own participation in drug use. These stories indicate the conflict that one undergoes when faced with the possible tragic death of a friend or loved one and facing the legal ramifications of coming forward. AB 472 eliminates that conflict.

California is one of the states having the highest death toll due to drug overdoses since 2000. Trends set nationwide now indicate that drug overdose deaths, primarily due to abuse of prescribed pain and anti-anxiety drugs, are skyrocketing beyond what has ever been seen. Those deaths now far outstrip those caused by any other type of accidental death, including auto fatalities, which has been the number one cause of accidental death since the mid-1900s. Epidemic in proportion, it is important that those who accidentally overdose can be medically intervened upon without prosecution for them or those who report their overdose. Also impacted by this new law are underage drinkers, who are another population heavily targeted in recent years as a high risk group for overdose and non-reporting. May other states line up and follow this example of what constitutes good sense in the battle against drug and alcohol related death.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions' counselor.

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