Did you know drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey?

Part of the reason for this may be that many of the victims' friends are afraid to call 9-1-1 because they fear their drug use will land them in prison.

The full New Jersey Senate has approved a bill that would protect good Samaritans who call 9-1-1 for someone experiencing a drug overdose.

The legislation would treat the fact that the person sought medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose as a mitigating factor in a prosecution for other drug-related offenses. It would also provide the good Samaritan with an affirmative defense against prosecution if the overdose leads to the death of the victim.

One of the bill's prime sponsors, State Senator Jope Vitale says, "Hopefully this bill will remove people's fears and end their hesitation in reaching out for emergency help to save someone's life."

Under current law, a person who manufactures, distributes or dispenses Schedule I and II controlled-substances such as heroin, methamphetamine or cocaine is liable for the death that results from the injection, inhalation or ingestion of that substance and is guilty of a first-degree crime.

"Saving someone's life is more important than prosecuting either the victim or the person who does the right thing by calling for help," says Senate Majority Leader Weinberg, co-prime sponsor. "Our current law encourages people to abandon those who are overdosing out of fear of arrest and prosecution. With the 'Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act,' we can ensure that the laws reflect our values that these people's lives are important and worthy of saving."

"Deaths from drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey, but many of these deaths could be prevented if medical assistance were sought immediately," says Assembly sponsor Connie Wagner. "Many times, the fear of arrest and prosecution prevents people from seeking appropriate assistance in the face of a medical emergency involving drug use."

The measure is similar to the "9-1-1: Lifeline Legislation," enacted in 2009, which provides immunity to underage drinkers if they call for medical assistance for another underage person whose life is endangered due to alcohol consumption.

Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, Washington State and Illinois have enacted similar laws to the "The Good Samaritan Emergency Response Act."

The bill has now passed both houses of the legislature and heads to Governor Chris Christie's desk.

More information is available online for drug overdose prevention and videos with parents who have lost children because of an overdose.