FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | November 23, 2011 | Contact: Sean Barry, 646.373.3344, email@example.com
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New York, NY – Religious leaders and families involved with VOCAL-NY called on NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to implement the “911 Good Samaritan” law to prevent overdose deaths during a vigil outside the NYC Chief Medical Examiner’s Office today. Held on the eve of Thanksgiving, people at the vigil carried purple flowers and photos of loved ones who have passed away due to accidental overdose deaths, and they surrounded an empty chair to symbolize family members who will not be around for the holidays.
“We work with police officers throughout this city as Chaplains and know that they all take seriously the possibility that they may be called on to take action that will help save a person’s life,” said Bishop Fernando Rodriguez, President of the Latin/African American Chaplain Association (LACA). “If Commissioner Kelly shows leadership in implementing the 911 Good Samaritan law, we can send the message that we are prioritizing saving lives when it comes to overdose. During holidays like this, we’re reminded of so many family members and neighbors who could still be with us if someone called 911.”
An important new law called “911 Good Samaritan” went into effect on September 18th after passing the legislature with near unanimous support and being signed by Governor Cuomo. The law aims to prevent overdose deaths by encouraging people who experience or witness an overdose to call 911 without fear of criminal charge and prosecution for possessing small quantities of drugs or alcohol (if they are a minor).
People at the vigil encouraged Commissioner Kelly to issue an Operations Order instructing police officers to follow the new law and educate the public so that people feel comfortable calling 911 in the event of an overdose.
“When my girlfriend overdosed, I called 911 because I didn’t want her die,” explained Elizabeth Owens, a VOCAL-NY leader from the Bronx. “But I hesitated because I thought it would mean sacrificing my freedom if the police found drugs on us. 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.”
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 fatal overdose epidemic.
“Overdose from drugs are preventable and the Good Samaritan Law eliminates barriers to saving lives,” said Howard Josepher, the President & CEO of Exponents, a leading drug treatment program in New York City. “If we can save an addict’s life, we can bring that person into recovery.”
Overdose is a serious health issue for New York. Accidental overdose deaths are the leading cause of accidental death in New York State, exceeding even motor vehicle accidents. In New York City, accidental drug overdose is the 4th leading cause of early death, after heart disease, cancer and HIV/AIDS; and the third leading cause of all death among NYC residents ages 25 to 34. There was a 20% increase in overdose deaths due to prescription drug use between 2004 and 2009, according to a recent report by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH). Nationally, nearly 100 people die every day due to drug overdose.
Organizations participating in the vigil included Exponents, Latin/African American Chaplain Association (LACA), the New York Harm Reduction Educators (NYHRE), Safe Horizon Streetwork Project, The Space at Tompkins, VOCAL-NY and Washington Heights CORNER Project.
VOCAL-NY is a grassroots membership organization building power among low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, drug use and mass incarceration in order to create healthy and just communities.