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Wisconsin lawmakers consider bill to prevent fatal drug overdoses

Heroin has always been a dangerous and deadly drug. But in recent years, overdose deaths have increased significantly here in Wisconsin and around the country. Experts say that this due, in part, to stronger and purer forms of heroin coming into the United States via Mexican drug cartels.

But there is also a legal component that strongly discourages would-be first responders from helping overdose victims. Say, for instance, that two friends are shooting heroin together and one accidentally overdoses. The second friend may be reluctant to call 911 out of fear that he could be charged with drug crimes. That is indeed what often happens under current law.

Recently, however, the Wisconsin state Assembly unanimously approved a bill offering limited criminal immunity to drug users who try to help an overdose victim by calling 911 or by taking them to an emergency room. If the bill passes, individuals who act to help overdose victims in these ways would not face drug possession charges. However, there would be no immunity for other drug offenses such as dealing.

The principle behind this legislation is simple but very important. It is a recognition of the fact that saving a life is and should be a much higher priority than the strict enforcement of drug laws. As such, we need to remove the barriers that prevent other drug users from reporting an overdose.

Similar legislation has been proposed and passed in other states; sometimes referred to as “Good Samaritan” laws. The proposed legislation here in Wisconsin will now go before the Senate. Hopefully, it will receive just as much support there as it did in the Assembly.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Assembly unanimously approves bills to fight heroin abuse," Jason Stein and Patrick Marley, Jan. 14, 2014

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