Drug Policy Alliance backs Good Samaritan bill aimed at ending busts after 911 overdose calls

art way.jpg
Art Way.
Art Way, who manages Colorado's branch of the Drug Policy Alliance, is currently hard at work on an intriguing piece of legislation set for introduction in the next session: a Good Samaritan bill intended to prevent those who call 911 when a friend is overdosing from being arrested for doing so.

And efforts to change marijuana laws are also on his to-do list.

Way, who's been in charge of the state's DPA affiliate since May, says the organization's mission is "drug policy based on science, compassion, human rights and health. We're trying to have a more health-centered approach to drug policy and lessen the criminalization that goes on when it comes to use -- especially minor possession.

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From the Drug Policy Alliance Facebook page.
"A lot of people call us legalizers, but the only thing we're on record in support of tax and legalization is marijuana. We break down our work into three areas. First is marijuana reform, which includes our previous work on medical marijuana. Second is broader criminal justice -- sentencing reform and so forth. And our third issue is harm reduction. We see it as a public safety/intervention strategy, where we take users who are near the chaotic end of drug misuse.

"There's a broad spectrum of drug use," he points out. "The vast majority of drug users are responsible people, believe it or not. But our decision-makers seem to base all their policy on the people at the far extremes. So we say to these people, 'We realize you may not be able to stop, or may not be willing to stop. Let's take you where you are in your life and try to lessen the harm drug abuse is causing in your life.'"

Advocacy for syringe exchanges of the sort recently approved in Denver is one example of the DPA's strategy. And Way sees the Good Samaritan bill as coming from a similar philosophical place. Here's how he describes it.

"In essence, this bill will provide a certain amount of immunity from prosecution and arrest of people who call 911 in the case of an overdose," he says. "Colorado already has a precedent for this when it comes to minors in possession of alcohol. If someone has had too much to drink and is going through alcohol intoxication, a minor who calls 911 won't be charged as a minor in possession."

Four states already have similar Good Samaritan laws on the books, including Washington. There, a recent study described in this article noted that prior to the legislation's passage, 911 was called in only about half of documented overdose incidents -- and, Way adds, "those calls were sometimes made from payphones because concern about where the drugs came from and prosecution was put over the person's health. And in a situation like that, five minutes can mean a lot."

Such overdoses don't always involve heroin, Way stresses. "Prescription pill overdoses are epidemic these days," he says. "More people nationwide overdose on prescription pills than all the illicit drugs combined; this year, accidental overdose overtook car accidents as the number one cause of death."

Page down to read more about the bill and the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act.

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Donkey Hotay
Donkey Hotay

Hey Art, you might also want to eliminate Denver Health's routine practice of running Police Wants + Warrants searches on all incoming emergency room admissions ... which results in the immediate arrests of injured patients for even petty outstanding warrants.

This routine invasion of privacy -- HIPPA -- by Denver Health discourages many injured and sick people from visiting the ER Hospital for needed treatments, further exacerbating their conditions and endangering lives.


Corey Donahue
Corey Donahue

Colorado is 25 years behind the times in Harm Reduction.  This bill should pass I would support it but don't forget we have the wonderful women and men over at the Harm Reduction Action Center that have been fighting for improvements for a long time it's nice to see Colorado may be brought in to the 1990's with this bill, best of luck Art.

On another note, "A lot of people call us legalizers, but the only thing we're on record in support of tax and legalization is marijuana." You are not on record in supporting legalization of Cannabis, it's called Regulation of Marijuana even Steve Fox who wrote it said it was not legalization.  Doing something that helps harm reduction and people then lying about your support for cannabis is not a good look.


Good one! People run away from their overdosing friends like kids run away from their friend that gets hurt jumping off the roof, they're scared to get in trouble. I have had personal experience with this, a dealer played nurse and overdosed a good person then ran away letting them die to avoid getting in trouble. I think if the threat of arrest was not included in that phone call the dealer would have made it and a good person might still be alive. Drugs kill people but sometimes laws help kill people too.

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