California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D- San Francisco) introduced a bill on February 15, 2011 regarding drug overdose. As it currently stands in California, a high rate of drug overdose deaths occur because people are afraid of police and medical involvement. The rationale is that calling an ambulance or taking a friend to a hospital when they are overdosing on illegal drugs, will result in criminal prosecution. According to the bill’s author, there were 9.8 per 100,000 drug overdose deaths in California in 2006. This is a shockingly high number!
The bill, as currently amended, would bar criminal prosecution of a person who is overdosing due to illegal drugs. They would not face any criminal prosecution for drugs in their system, on their person, or any paraphernalia, so long as they were seeking medical help. The bill would also bar criminal prosecution of any person trying to help a person who is currently overdosing. It would have the same effect in barring prosecution for any substances or paraphernalia found on the person while trying to help an overdosing person seek medical help.
The bill would be codified as Health & Safety Code §11376.5. This would fall between Health & Safety Code 11376 (Counseling or education programs) and 11377 (Unauthorized possession). HS 11376 allows the court to impose counseling for any person who is convicted of drug related crimes. This is in addition to any fines or terms of jail or prison. HS 11377 provides for the punishment for drug possession “except as authorized by law”. This clarification would allow the new HS 11376.5 to take control and bar prosecution of crimes.
Many people cannot control their drug addictions. It is a disease that controls people. It is no less serious or controlling than other diseases and ailments. A person should not be scared to seek medical intervention when they are overdosing on an illegal drug. A person would not be afraid to seek medical attention if having a heart attack or stroke. The same should be true of an overdose.
The Bill has passed the State House and Senate and is now on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk awaiting his signature. Let’s hope this bill becomes active law!
The text of the Code is as follows:
(a) Notwithstanding any other law, it shall not be a crime for a person to be under the influence of, or to possess for personal use, a controlled substance, controlled substance analog, or drug paraphernalia, if that person, in good faith, seeks medical assistance for another person experiencing a drug-related overdose that is related to the possession of a controlled substance, controlled substance analog, or drug paraphernalia of the person seeking medical assistance, and that person does not obstruct medical or law enforcement personnel. No other immunities or protections from arrest or prosecution for violations of the law are intended or may be inferred.
(b) Notwithstanding any other law, it shall not be a crime for a person who experiences a drug-related overdose and who is in need of medical assistance to be under the influence of, or to possess for personal use, a controlled substance, controlled substance analog, or drug paraphernalia, if the person or one or more other persons at the scene of the overdose, in good faith, seek medical assistance for the person experiencing the overdose. No other immunities or protections from arrest or prosecution for violations of the law are intended or may be inferred.
(c) This section shall not affect laws prohibiting the selling, providing, giving, or exchanging of drugs, or laws prohibiting the forcible administration of drugs against a person’s will.
(d) Nothing in this section shall affect liability for any offense that involves activities made dangerous by the consumption of a controlled substance or controlled substance analog, including, but not limited to, violations of Section 23103 of the Vehicle Code as specified in Section 23103.5 of the Vehicle Code, or violations of Section 23152 or 23153 of the Vehicle Code.
(e) For the purposes of this section, “drug-related overdose” means an acute medical condition that is the result of the ingestion or use by an individual of one or more controlled substances or one or more controlled substances in combination with alcohol, in quantities that are excessive for that individual that may result in death, disability, or serious injury. An individual’s condition shall be deemed to be a “drug-related overdose” if a reasonable person of ordinary knowledge would believe the condition to be a drug-related overdose that may result in death, disability, or serious injury.