Good Samaritan Law Reaches California

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California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 472 into law this month, making California the tenth state to adopt a form of Good Samaritan Law for those helping overdose victims.

The reason is simple. Without protection under the law, addicts may be unwilling to take a fellow user to the emergency room – fearing they will be arrested for their own drug use. Illegal drug use is a crime and anyone participating or assisting in use is committing a crime as well. If a friend arrives with a victim at the ER, and they have drug paraphernalia or have been using drugs themselves, they are liable to arrest without a provision in law to protect them.

Without such a law, alternatives for those subject to arrest have been to take their chances or do a “drop and drive,” where the victim is dumped at the ER entrance. This second technique makes it much more difficult to render medical aid because doctors can’t ask questions about what drug was involved or any history about the patient.

According to an article in the US News, there are no good statistics on how often 911 isn’t called because of a worry about arrest. They say, “While there may be a variety of reasons why a person doesn’t call for medical attention while witnessing an overdose, research shows that people consistently list “fear of police involvement/fear of arrest” as the leading reason for failing to seek immediate help for someone thought to be overdosing.”

Other states with Good Samaritan laws are: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington.

Even when such laws are in place, the word about them has to spread in the user community. To this end, some advocacy groups use campaigns, like the Drug Policy Alliance’s “Don’t Run. Call 911” messaging.

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