TAMPA BAY, Florida -- Some people may hesitate to call police when witnessing a drug overdose because they fear being charged with drug possession.
But a new law took effect Monday in Florida that aims to change that, while also saving lives.
The 911 Good Samaritan Act may protect those callers from prosecution for possessing or ingesting low-level controlled substances.
Last year in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco counties, 600 people died from accidental drug overdoses.
"This is a big step forward because we're losing too many of our kids to overdoses," says Cindy Grant with the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance.
One of those kids was Grant's own son, Dan. The 19-year-old was at a party when he overdosed on prescription drugs.
"His friends had attempted three times to get him help, but thought he could sleep it off," Grant recalled. "They were told by the adults present that they didn't want to get in trouble. Had they called the police, he would be alive today."
That's why the 911 Good Samaritan Act is important to a lot of people. It gives limited protection from being charged with having a controlled substance if a person is acting in good faith by calling police to report an overdose.
"Today, with the influx of pharmaceutical drugs, whether they're legal or not, somebody could take one of those and a little bit of alcohol and not wake up," said State Senator Maria Lorts Sachs (D-Delray Beach), who sponsored the bill. "The culture has changed, and we need to keep pace, the laws need to keep pace, with the culture of the times."
Concerns have been raised about the possibility of the law giving a free pass to drug dealers.
"If there are other drugs being used, or alcohol being consumed by those underage, there will be a criminal investigation of that," said Sachs. "But the person who calls will not risk criminal prosecution for making the call or having them at their house."
Now that the law is alive in Florida, the hope is it will erase the fear of calling for help.
"Don't be afraid of getting in trouble. Don't be afraid that they'll just sleep it off and then be mad because you called 911. Don't take that chance," Grant said.
Florida is the ninth state to enact a Good Samaritan Law. California's will take effect next year.