After neglecting similar proposals for years, both houses of the Washington State Legislature have passed a bill intended to save the lives of people overdosing on drugs. The so-called "Good Samaritan" bill would grant some legal immunity to people who call 911 for someone who is overdosing. The state house passed the measure yesterday afternoon and the state senate passed the bill on February 5.

The bill is designed to reduce the instances in which people witnessing a friend overdosing don't call for emergency medical attention because they fear getting busted (or that the person overdosing may be busted). Washington has had several such cases, including one that I wrote about in depth—the death of Danielle McCarthy, whose friends took her to the hospital only after rigor mortis set in.

Republicans and prosecutors opposed the bill in Olympia. Most of the dissenters yesterday in the house of representatives, where it passed by a margin of 57 to 39 votes, were of the GOP. The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (WAPA) primarily opposed the measure on the grounds that there wasn't funding to inform the public about the law, and thus, it wouldn't lead to more calls to 911. (While WAPA's argument seems disingenuous, education funding is not the lobby's interest, it's a valid point: The state needs to inform drug users that the law exists and that it will protect them, or it's not worth the sheet of acid it's printed on.) The law enforcement lobby also complained that the law could complicate prosecutions.

Fatal overdoses have risen sharply in Washington—owing mostly to the growing popularity of prescription opiates, such as Oxycontin—from 403 in 1999 to 707 in 2006, according to testimony before the state senate. New Mexico has a similar "Good Samaritan" law, passed after a spike of overdoses in that state.

If signed by the governor, the measure would remove penalties for drug possession for those who call authorities for someone who is overdosing and for the person overdosing. Further, it would allow anyone to carry and administer Naloxone—a pharmaceutical that reverses opiate overdoses—so they can treat someone overdosing on the spot.

The law wouldn't protect people from being prosecuted for drug sales or distribution, nor would it provide protection to the 911 caller if the person overdosing actually dies.