The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 13, 2013

Law should help save drug abusers

Why it matters: Ensuring those in a drug crisis receive help is more important than prosecutions.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — In 2007, a young woman overdosed on heroin. The man with her spent nearly a half hour getting rid of drug paraphernalia before calling police for help. By then, medical help was too late and the woman died.

The victim was the daughter of state Sen. Chris Eaton and her family’s personal tragedy is leading her to push for legislation next session that would provide immunity for those who call 911 seeking help for someone suffering an overdose.

The sensible legislation would also do more by increasing access to a drug that revives those who overdose on opiate-based drugs, like heroin.

Such a law would build on legislation that easily passed in the last session that allows minors to call 911 if they or someone they are with need medical assistance because of alcohol abuse without fear of being prosecuted for underage drinking.

As with that bill, some argue that removing the threat of legal repercussions for reporting an overdose lets people off the hook. In fact, many prosecutors are now taking an even more hardline approach than in the past, sometimes filing murder charges against those who supply drugs to someone who overdoses and dies.

After 40 years of fighting the drug war, Americans know that tougher prosecution and longer jail sentences have not created a drug-free society.

So-called Good Samaritan laws, which provide varying degrees of immunity for people who call for help when there is an overdose, have been passed in more than a dozen states and should be approved in Minnesota. Allowing for quick medical response not only saves lives but offers an opportunity for intervention to help drug abusers enroll in treatment programs.

The proposal comes coupled with another law that would allow health care providers to prescribe a drug called naloxone — the antidote for an opioid overdose — to family members or others who may be in a position to begin first-aid to reverse an overdose. The ideas come at a critical time as the number of drug overdoses in Minnesota and the nation are rising significantly.

As with the law providing immunity to underage drinkers who seek medical help, a Good Samaritan law for drug overdoses is a practical way to prioritize medical help over prosecution.