• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

'Good Samaritan' law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown aims to reduce accidental drug overdose deaths

September 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Drug users and underage drinkers needing medical help no longer have to fear criminal charges. California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed into effect a new law designed to reduce the number of deaths from accidental drug overdoses.

The "911 Good Samaritan" law provides immunity from prosecution for people who report an accidental overdose. The father of a young overdose victim believes it's a measure that will save lives.

Vanessa Porter was just 22 years old when she died of an accidental drug overdose. Her father says the young man who gave her the painkiller, Opana, didn't call for help because he feared legal consequences.

"I had to call 911 at midnight when she started having problems. No one knows for sure, but she more than likely would've been saved," said Vernon Porter.

Since his daughter's death more than two years ago, Porter has lobbied for the passage of Assembly Bill 472. People using drugs or drinking underage would not face criminal charges when seeking medical help for an overdose. Porter said the bill faced opposition because some lawmakers perceived it as condoning risky behavior. But it received enough votes to pass. The law takes effect Jan. 1.

"A lot of weeping, a lot of rejoicing, because we know moving forward, the potential for saving lives is here," said Porter.

Nearly one in 10 high school seniors say they've taken the painkiller Vicodin for non-medical purposes. Prescription drug overdose deaths in the U.S. now outnumber traffic fatalities. Porter says by educating young people about the new law, lives will be saved and they can get the help they need to overcome drug addiction.

"My daughter was not here for very long, but it was her loss that actually motivated our family and many other families to get engaged in this, so that moving forward, other families don't have to endure this tragedy," said Porter.

California joins other states that already have laws on the books, including Washington state and New Mexico.