Missouri House passes bill offering immunity for certain overdose cases

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JEFFERSON CITY -- The Missouri House passed a bill that would grant immunity to people carrying small amounts of drugs if they seek medical help for an overdose.

House Bill 294 passed the House with a 134-21 vote on Monday. If someone was experiencing a drug or alcohol overdose or someone was trying to help a person experiencing a drug or alcohol overdose, they could contact emergency services and not face punishment. 

Rep. Steve Lynch, R-Waynesville, is the bill’s sponsor. He says the bill is all about saving lives by taking away the fear of punishment away so people will call emergency services.

"They would be calling in a very limited amount of situations, very narrow set, that I can call and not be arrested or prosecuted if I only have a small amount of drugs on me or if I'm under the influence," Lynch said.

Lynch calls the bill "Bailey and Cody's Law" after two young adults who died from drug overdoses because of friends who were afraid to call emergency services. Their families shared their stories with Rep. Lynch.

"You could change those names to so many because it happens a lot more than I think people realize that it does," Lynch said. "There is a real fear that they're going to be arrested if they call, so they either just take someone close to the emergency center, they may take them back home, or when it comes to drug overdoses in particular, you don't have an unlimited amount of time before you can save your life, so time counts."

Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, is one of the House members who opposed the bill, saying opioid abusers should not get a free pass.

“What you’re doing is you’re telling abusers you can keep pushing the limit because help is on the way,” Hill said. “Now we’re finding the same abusers are now using more and pushing their limits more because they know they can be on their 20th or 21st or 22nd delivery of Narcan. 

Hill previously worked as a task force officer for the Drug Enforcement Administration. He says the state should be diverting dollars into treatment programs and drug courts.

"This legislature, they're voting with their hearts," Hill said. "It sounds good, we should do this, but they don't understand that they're compounding the problem."

The Missouri Division of Behavioral Health reports that opioid deaths in Missouri has been on the rise since the first reported year of 1999. The most recent data from 2014 says Missouri has 9.3 deaths per 100,000 from opioids, which is above the national average 5.9 deaths per 100,000. Between 1999 and 2014, opioid-related deaths have increased 7.6 times for females and 7.2 times for young adults aged 25 to 34.

37 states have some form of Good Samaritan law or 911 drug immunity law according to the National Council of State Legislatures.

The bill now needs to clear the Senate before going to Gov. Eric Greitens to be signed into law.