City Council to discuss "Good Samaritan Law"

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COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council will take a look at a possible "Good Samaritan" law that could help stop drug and alcohol overdoses. At its meeting on Monday evening, the council will discuss whether this law is something Columbia should adopt.

The council will hear a report about a law St. Louis enacted in June and the framework for how it could be established in Columbia. The good Samaritan law would provide immunity to those seeking medical attention in the case of drug overdose. Those who call 9-1-1 for medical attention in the case of an overdose would not be arrested, charged, prosecuted or convicted. That also applies to the person experiencing the overdose.

According to the report, St. Louis's version of the law is still "tough on drug dealers, offering no protection for those with weapons or large quantities of drugs, as well as those operating known drug houses." 

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp introduced the report to city council in July. He said opioids have been a problem in Columbia ever since he's been on the council.

"The situation that we have right now is 'if I report this medical emergency, I might get in trouble for doing something illegal.' We want to take away that risk and protect people for being a good Samaritan," Trapp said. 

Trapp believes drug disorders affect everyone in society and the good Samaritan law would benefit the entire Columbia community.

"I think it's going to protect people that we all know, our cousins and our friends and our neighbors who are caught in a bad situation," Trapp said. "It's going to help with getting medical resources instead of trying to arrest our way out of a medical and social problem."

According to the St. Louis ordinance of the Good Samaritan Law, drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S. 

Columbia resident Mark Flakne is no stranger to deaths by drug overdose. His family and several of his friends have been affected by drug overdoses. One of his friends overdosed on drugs in Columbia and passed away recently after people with him did not call the police when medical attention was needed.

"I never thought in a million years I would know someone who died from a drug overdose, and now I know two young people," Flakne said.

Flakne sent Trapp an email saying why he believed Columbia should adopt a good Samaritan law. Flakne said he's aware some people might fear this ordinance would give people in the drug system a free pass.

"In an overdose situation, minutes count and someone hesitating for fear of prosecution, that can cost someone's life. So I think it's important to remember this ordinance is not about legalization or decriminalization, it's about temporary immunity that can save lives," Flakne said.

The City Council Memo for the discussion includes a recommendation from the Columbia Police Department that there be two changes from the St. Louis ordinance. Those include immunity for alcohol overdose and minor in possession of alcohol. CPD also recommends the Columbia law also not provide immunity for drug distribution.

KOMU 8 News reached out to CPD for further comment. They said they don't discuss upcoming proposed ordinances.

Trapp said he believes they are all on the same page.

"There's a consensus amongst the police and city staff and members of city council I've talked to, that we need to do something with good Samaritan law. We just need to have a robust public discussion about the details," Trapp said.