Oregon law now protects people from drug arrests when calling 911 for overdoses
A new law that took effect January 1, 2016 will protect individuals who call police or 911 to get help for someone suffering from a drug-related overdose, and public health officials want to spread the word.
Senate Bill 839 was signed into law by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown last year. This law exempts individuals from arrest and prosecution for certain drug offenses and parole/probation violations if drug evidence is found as a result of contacting first responders to get medical aid for another person – or themselves – who has overdosed.
State Health Officer Katrina Hedberg, MD, MPH, says the new law makes it possible to seek medical attention for an overdose without fear of legal repercussions.
“This law, quite frankly, will save lives,” Hedberg says. “People want to do the right thing and help a friend, or even a stranger, or are having an overdose themselves, and now they don’t have to worry they’ll be jailed if they call 911 and drugs are found.”
Many overdose deaths are preventable if timely action is taken. Yet deaths associated with both prescription and non-prescription opioids (e.g. heroin) are among the leading causes of injury-related death in Oregon and the majority of other states, and kill more Americans every year than car crashes. Between 1999 and 2014, more than 4,000 people in Oregon lost their lives due to overdoses involving opioids.
The Oregon Health Authority is working to address the epidemic of opioid misuse, abuse, dependency and associated negative outcomes including hospitalizations and overdose deaths. Reducing harms associated with alcohol and substance use is one of seven priority areas from Oregon’s State Health Improvement Plan.