Opiate abuse, including both heroin and prescription painkillers, is cutting a swath of death across America. It's no different in St. Louis, where 117 people died last year due to accidental opiate overdoses.
That's why Ward 20 Alderman Cara Spencer is introducing an "Overdose Prevention" bill during the Alermanic Board Meeting this morning. The measure, Board Bill 40
, seeks to protect witnesses or bystanders who call 911 during a drug overdose, since these kinds of emergencies commonly occur in the presence of other drug users.
Spencer, who lost a cousin to an overdose, said in a press release that the goal of the ordinance is to "empower witnesses to save someone’s life without risking their own freedom."
The bill will require a vote from the entire board to become law. If that happens, St. Louis would join dozens of other states and cities that have implemented similar measures. According to the National Conference of State Legislators
, 35 states and Washington, D.C., have some form of a "Good Samaritan" or 911 drug immunity law on the books.
Now, the immunity being offered in Spencer's bill has its limits: It would only apply to charges related to drug use that occurred at the time a call for help was made. The immunity also wouldn't cover non-drug related crimes, outstanding warrants and illegal firearms possession. (You can read the bill in full here
The ordinance would also require responding officers to offer information and assistance to others at the scene who show signs of substance abuse problems.
“Our officers often are the first to respond to these situations," St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said in the press release. "This ordinance will allow them to focus on the most important thing; saving a life in danger."
The measure has also drawn support from Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce.
“We shouldn’t ask someone to make the horrible choice of saving a human life or getting a drug possession charge," she said. "If we can save lives, and I believe we can, we have a moral obligation to do it.”
See also: Painkiller Abuse Has Soared in Missouri in the Last Decade
See also: The Short Sad Life of Carson Swyres
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_ Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com