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What you need to know about Georgia's 911 amnesty law

After overdose deaths tripled from 1999 to 2013 in Georgia, many in the state realized the severity of the opioid problem. Some decided a change in law was needed. At the insistence of her intern Justin Leef in 2014, House Representative Sharon Cooper met with nine women who had lost children to drug overdoses. Several of the children had overdosed and then been abandoned by their friends out of fear of being arrested.

Leef had also lost a friend who overdosed and was abandoned by his friends to die. He came up with the idea for Georgia's amnesty law. After meeting with the women, Cooper agreed to sponsor it. The governor signed the bill in 2014, and it has been credited with saving hundreds of lives.

Like many laws, understanding the ins and outs of the law is confusing. Here is what you need to know about Georgia's amnesty law.

People who receive amnesty:

  • People who call 911 for an overdose victim will not be arrested, charged and prosecuted for possession of controlled substances and marijuana.
  • People who overdosed are also protected from arrest, charges and prosecution for possession of controlled substances and marijuana.
  • The amount of drugs present does affect immunity. It is given to people who are in possession of fewer than four grams of a solid controlled substance, less than one milliliter of a controlled liquid substance and less than one ounce of marijuana.
  • People in possession of drug paraphernalia who either overdose or seek medical assistance for an overdose victim are also protected from arrest, charge or prosecution.
  • People on probation, parole, facing a restraining order or some other type of pretrial release also receive immunity from charges, arrest or prosecution for either seeking help for an overdose victim or overdosing.
  • People who seek medical attention for an alcohol overdose or overdose will not be charged for most crimes related to underage alcohol consumption. These crimes include including possessing alcohol, purchasing alcohol, using false identification to purchase alcohol or misrepresenting age to buy alcohol.

People who may not receive amnesty:

  • People accused of the sale of drugs may be charged.
  • Students living in university housing will not face legal charges, but could face discipline charges from the university.

A recent heroin overdose case is also testing the boundaries of the law. Graham Williams, who allegedly injected his friend with heroin and then is accused of refusing to immediately call 911. The district attorney has charged Williams with distribution of heroin for injecting Gregg Ivey, as well as murder due to his alleged refusal to call 911 and then preventing others from immediately calling 911. Ivey later died at the hospital. The case may set a precedent for the kind of behavior tolerated under the amnesty law.

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