Michigan Moving Closer to Protecting Those Who Overdose from Prosecution

Since 2012, drug poisoning and overdose deaths have been on the rise in Michigan. In fact, in 2014 deaths attributed to drug overdose in the state numbered around 1,700, a 14 percent increase according to state police. Now it appears that individuals in Michigan can report a drug overdose without the worry they will face prosecution or potential punishment for illegal possession or use under legislation approved on September 8 that’s expected to be signed into law very soon.

The legislation was approved in May by the GOP-controlled House, and may get final approval next week. The legislation involves expanding a law that would exempt individuals of any age from being prosecuted when they require medical assistance or report an overdose involving an illegal substance. The Republican-led Senate voted 30-7 in favor of expanding the law.

Those younger than 21 are protected from criminal charges in cases where painkiller or prescription drub abuse results in an overdose or medical emergency under a 2015 law. The state also protects those who are underage and at risk due to alcohol intoxication from prosecution.

Not all lawmakers agree on the new legislation; GOP Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton said that the bill effectively removes the cap on the get-out-of-jail-free cards, and that all someone would have to do is make certain they consume enough of a drug to be in an emergency situation and admitted to a hospital. Colbeck said that lifting the age limit to include those 21 and above would result in a “de facto legalization of illegal drug use.”

On the flip side of the coin, many people who support the legislation realize that when those who have taken illegal drugs find themselves in a possible life-threatening situation, they wouldn’t be concerned about calling 911 out of fear of being prosecuted or punished by the criminal justice system.

Republican Governor Rick Snyder created a prescription drug and opioid abuse task force last year that recommended the possibility of those who sought medical aid for low-level drug offenses being given immunity.

Two bills were submitted to the Michigan House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee that expand on last year’s House Bill 4843 including House Bill 5649 which provides immunity from possession penalties in certain circumstances, and House Bill 5650 providing immunity in certain circumstances from use penalties.

In the U.S., deaths caused by accidental overdose have risen to the top in terms of leading causes of accidental death, going beyond the number of motor vehicle accidents that result in death for those ages 25 to 64 according to the CDC. Hopefully this 911 Good Samaritan legislation will help save lives.

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