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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: January 10, 2019 11:22 AM
From: Senator Kim L. Ward
To: All Senate members
Subject: Ending Prosecution Immunity for Individuals with Opioid Overdoses without Seeking Treatment
I am introducing legislation to encourage individuals who receive medical treatment for a drug overdose to also seek addiction intervention in order to maintain immunity from prosecution for a drug offense.

As intended by the provisions of Act 139 of 2014, the widespread availability of naloxone 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 almost immediately 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 addiction must get 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 granted under Act 139 if he 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 may still have an opportunity for diversion into treatment rather than jail through adjudication within our drug courts.

The goal of this bill is not to criminalize opioid overdose survivors but to help move individuals from addiction into recovery. Naloxone saves lives but it does not save people from their addictions like treatment programs do.

This legislation was SB 810 of last session and co-sponsors were Martin, White, Yaw, Browne, Vulakovich, Stefano, Killion, Scarnati, and Wagner.

Introduced as SB408