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California Law Aimed At Preventing Drug Overdose Deaths Takes Effect

— A new law that aims to reduce the number of drug overdose deaths in California takes effect tomorrow. The law gives legal protection to people who witness an overdose and call 911.

Aired 12/31/12 on KPBS News.

Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in California. A new law aims to reduce the problem.

People who suffer a drug overdose need immediate medical attention. But they don't always get it.

Dr. Shawn Evans, chief of staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, said fear of arrest often prevents witnesses to an overdose from getting help.

"Panic often sets in," Evans explained. "And it's that fear that promotes a mindset, where people want to clean up the scene, or reduce the amount of paraphernalia in the environment, before they contact 911. Or, worse yet, before they attend to the person who most needs help."

The new law provides witnesses protection from arrest for drug possession. The law does not apply to people who sell drugs.

California is the 10th state to pass a Good Samaritan 911 law. California joins New Mexico, Washington, Colorado, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Florida and the District of Columbia.

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