Representative Bryan Spencer is promoting a bill that would offer immunity in certain cases to individuals who seek medical attention for a drug overdose -- and for the Missouri lawmaker, it's personal.
"I had a student who died of heroin use," he tells Daily RFT. "He was a bright young man who had a great future in front of him."
Spencer, who taught elementary, middle and high school classes for more than twenty years, argues that individuals who call 911 for friends who have overdoses should have limited immunity against possession charges.
"You're weighing a conviction versus a life," he says. "I understand both sides of the argument. But you have to decide: Is a life more important, or is putting someone in jail more important?"
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Spencer, a Republican and formerly a teacher in the Francis Howell School District, says his good Samaritan proposal is not a partisan one, and it's getting support and opposition from members of both parties.
"I'm getting a lot of positive response and negative response," he says. "It goes back to conviction versus saving a life. The arguments from both sides are very strong.... But when push comes to shove, do I put someone in jail, or do I put someone in a hospital or a rehab center?"
House Bill 296, which Spencer says should be heard in committee next week when legislators return from spring break, would establish very specific circumstances when individuals could not be charged when they seek emergency medical assistance in overdose cases.
The draft, full version below, says:
A person who, in good faith, seeks or obtains emergency medical assistance for someone experiencing an overdose shall not be charged or prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance...if evidence of the possession of a controlled substance charge...was acquired as a result of the person seeking or obtaining emergency medical assistance....
Continue for more details on the bill and response from advocates.
And there are requirements for this immunity, which could also apply to a person who is experiencing an overdose as well. The bill specifies possession limits; if an individual has more than three grams of heroin, for example, he or she would not be protected from charges. Additionally, if law enforcement has reasonable suspicion or probable cause to detain, arrest or search a subject -- separate from the overdose call -- this legislation would not block that.
Opponents, Spencer notes, "say we are being soft on crime. We are not.... If you are a dealer, this law doesn't apply to you."
His proposal comes as the Missouri Recovery Network is raising awareness about its report showing heroin use has dramatically increased in the state -- with deaths due to the drug more than tripling in just four years.
"We are hoping that it removes barriers to calling 911," Brenda Schell, executive director of the Missouri Recovery Network, says of the proposal.
She says, "What we're talking about is a group of kids who are either experimenting or using heroin and when one shows signs of an overdose...kids just scatter and let the person die...because they are fearful of prosecution."
Spencer, who has seen students firsthand struggle with drug use -- and then tragically lost an eighteen-year-old last year -- says, "Sometimes it's their first time, and their body just goes into shock. Heroin is so cheap and so easy to get ahold of. It doesn't take much to convince a young mind to try something that's that dangerous."
It's not about protecting criminals, he adds. "This gives a...very small window of immunity to allow them to call 911 to save a life."
Here's the draft legislation.