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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Commentary

A call that could save a life

Special To The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 01:27 PM

A new law that takes effect Oct. 1 allows Floridians who see or experience a drug overdose to call for medical assistance without risking criminal prosecution. The law, "911 Good Samaritan Act," provides that a person acting in good faith who seeks medical assistance for an individual experiencing or observing a drug-related overdose may not be "charged, prosecuted or penalized" for possession of a controlled substance if the evidence was obtained as a result of a call for medical assistance.

Generally, possession of a controlled substance is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. The new law, citing research indicating that other people are present or aware of fatal overdoses in a majority of cases, provides protection from criminal penalties for possession of the various substances involved in overdoses. The bill finds that it is in the public interest to "encourage a person who is aware of or present during another person's overdose to seek medical assistance for that individual."

The 911 Good Samaritan law also creates a new mitigation factor in Florida's sentencing code if the defendant "was making a good faith effort to obtain or provide medical assistance for an individual experiencing a drug-related overdose." However, it specifies that the protections of the bill may not be used to suppress or exclude legally obtained evidence in other criminal prosecutions.

In 2010 there were 2,420 unintentional deaths in Florida caused by drug-related poisonings. The Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association and the Florida Public Defender Association are working together to reduce that frightening death toll by publicizing the new law across the state. Please help us get the word out that after Oct. 1, citizens can "make the call" to 911 for help without worrying about arrest or prosecution for drug possession in criminal court.

Many lives can be saved if Floridians take advantage of this beneficial new law.


Julianne Holt, Hillsborough County public defender, is president of the Florida Public Defender Association, and Doug Leonardo is president of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association.

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