The Free Press, Mankato, MN


April 15, 2014

Our View: Saving lives trumps booking drug users

Why it matters: State legislation offering immunity in drug overdose cases is a compassionate and practical solution.

The surge in use and overdose deaths at the hands of heroin and illegal pain killers has led the state Senate to back a bill that could help save lives. Unfortunately some law enforcement agencies and the state prosecutors association are fighting provisions in the legislation that provide limited immunity for those drug users or Good Samaritans who call 911 to get help for someone suffering an overdose.

The bill’s Senate sponsor had a daughter who died of a heroin overdose. The victim’s friend spent time trying to dispose of evidence that could have been used for prosecution before calling 911 to get help.

Under the Senate bill, which passed unanimously, immunity from prosecution would be given to drug users or those who are with them who call 911 for help because of an overdose.

The bill also would ensure that first responders have an effective antidote — Narcan — on hand when responding to overdose calls.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who supports the Narcan provision, opposes offering immunity. He testified that if the bill contains immunity for drug users who call for help, he may have his officers stop carrying Narcan.

We hope Stanek’s threat to have his officers stop carrying the life-saving drug is only a bit of political hyperbole. Refusing to provide a simple and effective treatment that could save lives shouldn’t be denied by any law enforcement agency or first responder simply because they disagree with language in a bill.

The Minnesota County Attorneys Association says it will try to get the immunity language changed as the bill moves through the House. Prosecutors say they might accept immunity for low-level cases but not all.

We understand that prosecutors are in the business of prosecuting lawbreakers. It’s understandable some prosecutors, law enforcement and some Minnesotans feel reluctant to give someone a free pass for drug crimes when they seek medical assistance.

But providing limited immunity to those who seek help from a potentially deadly situation isn’t going to increase drug use. It would, however, save lives. That’s what the House and Gov. Mark Dayton should focus on as the legislation moves forward.

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