Michigan nears providing immunity for all overdose calls

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LANSING, Mich. (AP/WXMI) — Anyone in Michigan could report drug overdoses without fear of being prosecuted for illegal possession or use under legislation approved Thursday and that is expected to be signed into law soon.

The Republican-led Senate voted 30-7 to expand a law exempting people of any age from prosecution if they report an overdose from any illegal substance or require medical assistance themselves.

A West Michigan mother who fought to successfully change the state’s so-called ‘Good Samaritan’ law last year after her teen son died from a prescription pill overdose has been fighting to take it even further by expanding it to all overdose reports.

The GOP-controlled House approved the legislation in May and could give it final approval as early as next week, at a time overdoses have spiked in Michigan and elsewhere.

A 2015 law protects people under 21 from charges when an overdose or medical emergency is reported that arises from prescription drug and painkiller abuse. Michigan also provides immunity in cases where underage individuals are in danger due to alcohol intoxication.

One critic of the new legislation , GOP Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton, said lifting the age limit would lead to a “de facto legalization of illegal drug use.”

“What this bill does is remove the cap on the get-out-of-jail-free cards,” he said. “All you have to do is make sure that they take enough of the drugs to get hospitalized and be in an emergency condition. If you keep on doing that, you’re going to keep on getting these get-out-of-jail-free cards. At what point does getting grace become enablement?”

Supporters of the bills countered that they would save lives by encouraging people to not think twice about calling 911.

“This bill is about people who are overdosing and someone trying to take that person to the hospital and not be charged,” said Democratic Sen. Coleman Young II of Detroit. “That’s neighborliness. That’s being a Good Samaritan.”

Drug overdose deaths in Michigan increased by 14 percent to more than 1,700 in 2014, the last year for which data is available, according to the state police. Drug poisonings have been on the rise since 2012.

Thirty-seven states have enacted some form of a Good Samaritan or 911 drug immunity law since 2007, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Last year, a prescription drug and opioid abuse task force created by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder recommended exploring immunity from prosecution for low-level drug offenses when medical aid is sought.

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