On Sunday, the “911 Good Samaritan” law to prevent overdose deaths took effect. The new law, passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by Governor Cuomo in July, encourages New Yorkers to call 911 if they are they are the witness or victim of an overdose without fear of arrest or criminal prosecution for for possessing small quantities of drugs or alcohol (if they are a minor).
Assembly Health Committee Chair and bill sponsor Richard Gottfried joined VOCAL-NY, Drug Policy Alliance, Harm Reduction Coalition and the Peer Network on the steps of City Hall to draw attention to the new law and encourage the NYPD to effectively implement it.
Media coverage included:
Elizabeth Owens, a VOCAL-NY leader and NYHRE peer outreach worker, described her experience with overdose:
”When my girlfriend overdosed, I called 911 because I didn’t want her die. But I hesitated because I thought it would mean sacrificing my freedom if the police found drugs on use. Many people don’t follow through and make that call because they’re afraid of what the police will do when they arrive. This new law can be a life-saving tool, but only if the police understand it and get the public to trust them.”
Governor Cuomo acknowledged concerns within the law enforcement community in his signing statement for the new law, but wrote “that the benefit to be gained by this bill – saving lives – must be paramount.” We couldn’t agree more.
Overdose deaths can be prevented if emergency services are contacted soon enough, but most people do not call 911 because they are afraid of being arrested. New York is only the fourth – and the largest – state to adopt a 911 Good Samaritan law to reverse the overdose epidemic.