August 31, 2011 Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly New York Police Department One Police Plaza New York, NY 10038 Dear Commissioner Kelly, We write to you as concerned New Yorkers who have been affected by overdose, either firsthand or through a friend or family member. In overdose situations, we worry about how the police will respond to the scene of an overdose when medical help is called. On International Overdose Awareness Day, we urge you to show leadership by encouraging New Yorkers to prevent overdose deaths by calling 911 without fear of criminal charge and prosecution for drug or alcohol possession. Fortunately, Governor Cuomo recently signed a new law that defines this as a priority for our state, although we need the NYPD’s support for effective implementation. No one should have to worry about being arrested for calling 911 and trying to save a life in the event of on an overdose. Overdose deaths are a major concern for all New Yorkers. In New York City, accidental drug overdose is the 4th leading cause of early death, after heart disease, cancer and HIV/AIDS; and the third leading cause of all death among NYC residents ages 25 to 34. According to a recent report by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), there was a 20% increase in overdose deaths due to prescription opioids (e.g. OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet) and a 17% increase due to benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium and Xanax) between 2004 – 2009, even though overall overdose deaths declined during that period. And while this public health crisis extends to every corner of our City, overall overdose deaths rates are nearly double the citywide average in the poorest neighborhoods. Staten Island, however, has experienced the sharpest increase in the rate of overdose deaths due to prescription opioids. Overdose deaths can be prevented. Death rarely occurs immediately from a drug-related overdose, and most deaths occur 1 to 3 hours after the initial dose of drugs. Since most drug overdoses occur in the home and in the presence of others, fatal overdoses can be prevented if emergency services are contacted soon enough. But most people who witness a drug overdose don’t call 911 because they are afraid of police arrest or criminal prosecution for drug possession. No New Yorker should be afraid to save a life because they could be arrested for it. The new statewide law to prevent drug and alcohol overdose deaths, called 911 Good Samaritan, goes into effect on September 18th. This new law seeks to encourage witnesses of alcohol or other drug overdoses to call 911 immediately by offering a limited shield from charge and
80-A Fourth Ave. | Brooklyn, NY 11217 | www.VOCAL-NY.org | info@vocal-ny.org | (718) 802-9540 | 718-228-2477 fax

prosecution for drug and alcohol possession (for minors). The law passed the New York Legislature with near-unanimous bipartisan support. This law may only be effective if law enforcement actively supports it by encouraging the public to call 911 and report overdoses. The NYPD has established a welcome precedent by reaching out to the undocumented immigrant community and encouraging victims of crimes to call the police without fear of being asked about their status or reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We hope the NYPD shows the same leadership when addressing the overdose crisis. We offer the following recommendations to the NYPD to effectively implement the new law:  Creation of NYPD operations orders regarding the 911 Good Samaritan law.  Encourage the public to contact 911 in the event they witness an alcohol or drug overdose without fear of being arrested, including community outreach and a public service announcements.  Train officers to recognize signs of drug or alcohol overdose, as well as administer Naloxone, an opiate reversal drug that has no side effects if the victim does not have opiates in his or her system.  Include the 911 Good Samaritan policy and overdose prevention, including Naloxone, in all drug prevention education officers participate in. We request a meeting with the NYPD leadership to discuss the implementation of the new law and explore ways to collaborate on how to make it an effective policy that alleviates the fear that prevents people from calling 911 during overdose situations. To schedule a meeting, your office can contact Jeremy Saunders at jeremy@vocal-ny.org or (917) 676-8041. Sincerely, VOCAL-NY

80-A Fourth Ave. | Brooklyn, NY 11217 | www.VOCAL-NY.org | info@vocal-ny.org | (718) 802-9540 | 718-228-2477 fax

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