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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: June 22, 2017 02:33 PM
From: Senator Kim L. Ward
To: All Senate members
Subject: Ending Prosecution Immunity for Individuals who Refuse to Seek Treatment for Opioid Overdoses
I am introducing legislation to encourage individuals who receive medical treatment for a drug overdose to also seek also seek addiction intervention in order to maintain immunity for drug offense prosecution.

As intended by the provisions of Act 139 of 2014, the widespread availability of naloxone and immunity from prosecution for certain drug offenses have thankfully meant more individuals are being saved from opioid overdoses that otherwise would have been deadly. Yet while naloxone is a lifesaver, it almost always guarantees that an addict who receives it will immediately look for another fix since it works by binding opioid receptors, blocking the effect of the drug, and causing severe withdrawal symptoms. Heroin users are surviving overdoses only to use again as quickly as possible, rather than seeking treatment for their addiction as is hoped. This is evident by the experiences shared by our law enforcement and emergency responders who are administering naloxone repeatedly to the same individuals within periods as short as days. As reported, one frequent visitor to a Philadelphia harm-reduction organization used Narcan, a brand name of naloxone, 70 times in 2016 alone to reverse overdoses.

People with an opioid addition must be motivated towards treatment if we are going to stem the tide of this epidemic. Under the bill I am proposing, developed in consultation with the Pennsylvania District Attorney's Association and modeled after a similar law in Ohio, a person would only maintain immunity from prosecution for drug offenses if he or she seeks and obtains an assessment by a certified drug and alcohol counselor and receives a referral for drug addiction treatment within 30 days after receiving medical assistance, such as naloxone, for an overdose. The individual would have to provide proof of the assessment and referral to a licensed drug and alcohol facility or treatment program to a prosecuting attorney upon request. Also, immunity would only ever be given twice to an individual regardless of whether or not they have gotten a screening and referral. If immunity is not maintained or granted in any case, an individual would still have an opportunity for diversion into treatment rather than jail through drug courts.

The goal of this legislation is not to criminalize opioid overdose survivors but to use the criminal justice system to help move individuals from addiction into recovery. Naloxone saves lives but it does not save people from their addictions like treatment programs can.

If you have any questions regarding this bill, please feel free to contact me or my legislative director, Geri Sarfert, at (717) 787-6063.

Introduced as SB810