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Friday, February 18, 2011

Ammiano Wants Drug Overdosers To Call 911 -- And Have No Fear

Posted By on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 7:53 AM

click to enlarge Overdosing doesn't have to be a crime
  • Overdosing doesn't have to be a crime

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has introduced another drug-friendly bill this week. But this one would provide immunity from prosecution to anyone who calls 911 for a drug overdose.

The bill applies to both the person overdosing or someone who reports the overdose, as long as they don't "obstruct medical or law enforcement personnel." It would not apply to people suspected of selling drugs or for those suspected of forcibly giving drugs against someone's will -- in other words date rape druggers will still be criminalized.

New Mexico and Washington state have already passed similar legislation.

With about 3,500 Californians dying of overdoses each year,

the law is meant to ease fears about calling authorities to report an

overdose "which researchers continually identify as the most significant

barrier to the ideal first response of calling emergency services,"

according to the bill.


"I see how some people might be reluctant to call for help," said SFPD spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak.

But it seems that San Francisco law enforcers already give overdose callers a free pass. Andraychak says the police typically respond with paramedics on overdose calls. Cops will confiscate the remaining drugs and book it into evidence, and write up the incident in a police report.

Booking the drugs as evidence is one thing; arresting the person is another. If it looks like an accidental overdose, police will not make an arrest, he says.

"It would be highly unlikely a prosecution would start...It's a medical emergency more than anything else," Andraychak said.

A General Hospital spokesperson told SF Weekly that the hospital staff does not call the cops when people are brought in for overdoses.

Still, it's the fear of prosecution that dominates the emergency situation. Andraychak says he can recall one case eight years ago where it seemed people had abandoned an overdose victim instead of calling police. 

"A young man in the Travelodge here in the city overdosed on heroin," he said. "They'd been sharing a room for a concert, he died, and the housekeeper found him the next day."

It seemed he may have been with people and they just left him, Andraychak says. He was 22 years old.

"That's one of my sad memories," Andraychak says.

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Lauren Smiley

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