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Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Bill To Reduce Drug Overdose Deaths

Aired 9/20/12 on KPBS News.

Beginning in January, Californians who witness a drug overdose can call 911 without fear of being arrested for drug possession.

— California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill aimed at reducing the number of deaths due to accidental drug overdoses. The new law gives legal protection to people who call 911 after witnessing an overdose.

Under current law, it's illegal to be in possession or under the influence of a controlled substance. Public health advocates say fear of arrest often prevents witnesses from reporting a drug overdose.

Starting next January, California will become the 10th state to give legal protection to witnesses who report an overdose to 911.

Critics call it a free pass for drug addicts. The ACLU's Margaret Dooley-Samuli doesn't see it that way.

"You don't start fires because you have a fire extinguisher. You are prepared if something goes wrong," Dooley-Samuli explained. "And that's really what this is about. This is about empowering people to do the right thing, and to be prepared and ready in case of an emergency."

Unintentional drug overdoses are the number one cause of accidental death in California.

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