Often, lawmakers have to make difficult decisions when attempting to pass laws that are designed to make the state a better, safer place. Surely, one of these areas where tough decisions are made are the policies of illegal drug use.
After all, no lawmaker is interested in being labeled as “soft on crime,” and only a rare few are willing to deviate from the traditional approach of heavy penalties for drug use and abuse.
But lawmakers are also interested in doing what is truly best for the citizens of Utah, and, sometimes, that means putting drug enforcement behind protecting lives, as in the case of a drug overdose.
The reality is that teens and adults are dying from drug overdoses that are entirely preventable. They are dying because individuals, who are also consuming drugs, are scared to report potential overdoses for fear of authorities charging an overdose reporter with a crime – perhaps even a felony if it is a repeat offence. In all, the Department of Health reports that there were more than 500 deaths from drug related overdoses, with more than 75 percent of those deaths caused by prescription drugs.
Representative Carol Spackman Moss (Democrat – Salt Lake City) feels that that the status quo is clearly not the best policy for the state of Utah or its citizens. It is for this reason Moss is proposing HB 11 – Overdose Reporting Amendments.
The bill would mark a change in the consequences of those who do report overdoses to authorities. Namely, it would provide immunity from prosecution if an individual or group reports an overdose even if they themselves have been involved with the use of illegal drugs.
There are conditions, of course. The person who may otherwise be in trouble for reporting the overdose must be acting in good faith by attempting to save the life of the person having a medical emergency. Along those same lines, a person is not protected if a law enforcement officer is enforcing a search warrant and happens to come across an individual experiencing an overdose – the law makes it very clear that the reporter of the overdose must have the best interest of the individual in mind. In 2006, Moss ran a somewhat similar bill, although instead of providing immunity for those that do report overdoses, the bill would have punished those who did not report overdoses. The bill failed and Moss admits that it sent the wrong message.
This failed bill from eight years ago has ultimately brought about HB 11 and its changed approach. Zach Baker, a college student at the time, approached Moss in 2012 to see if new legislation along these lines could be proposed. Since then, Baker has become the Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Project, which is designed to find solutions to the problem of overdosing on drugs.
“I have had students die from this – my daughter, who also teaches, has had students die from this.” Moss told Utah Political Capitol on Tuesday. “The problem of people overdosing crosses all people and all walks of life and the number one cause of accidental deaths in Utah is overdose… this problem touches many lives.”
The bill has a solid chance of passing, as it carries the recommendation of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee. Other organizations such as the National Center for Drug Policy agree with the idea; Moss has even received the thumbs up from several judges and prosecutors.
“A lot of work has gone into this bill, and a lot of lives can be saved if it passes,” said Moss. “States that have similar laws have seen reductions in people accidentally dying from overdosing.” If Moss’ bill were to pass, Utah would be the 16th state in the nation to have such a law on the books.
If successful, Moss expects that the Health Department, Colleges and Universities – as well as their respective Greek systems, and doctors would get the word out about the change in policy, all in an attempt to ensure that lives are saved.
To contact Representative Moss, click here or call 801-272-6507.
Impact on Average Utahn:
High Impact 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 No Impact
Need for Legislation:
Necessary 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Unnecessary
Sound Legislation 5 . 4 . 3 . 2 . 1 . 0 Clunker