Bill would waive drug charges during medical emergencies in Neb.

In 2014, 47K Americans died from drug overdoses


By Anna Gronewold
Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. — A Nebraska lawmaker is proposing a legal immunity for drug-users who call for help during a medical emergency, saying America's rising rates of drug overdose deaths demand it.

Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln will introduce a bill this week that would shield users from possession charges if they seek help for themselves or someone else who is overdosing.

Morfeld said too many drug-users won't call 911 in life-threatening emergencies because they are afraid of the consequences.

"The bottom line is that our drug policy should put saving lives first and punishment second when it comes to drug possessions," Morfeld said. "When it comes to drug manufacturing and distribution, that's a different story."

In 2014, 47,055 Americans died from drug overdoses, more than any year on record and more than double the rate of overdoses in 2000, the Center for Disease Control reported in December.

Nebraska's rate of drug overdose deaths still remains lower than the national average, but Morfeld says that could change. Last week the health and human services committee advanced a bill to the full Legislature that would create a statewide tracking system for prescription medications.

The bill by Omaha Sen. Sara Howard is aimed at curbing addicts' access to prescription drugs. It would create a database that pharmacists and prescribers could check before writing or filling prescriptions, preventing the same prescriptions from being filled by multiple pharmacies or the patients from requesting the same drugs from different doctors. Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha has designated it a priority, almost guaranteeing it will be debated on the floor.

Morfeld says when states tighten controls on prescription drugs, addicts turn to street drugs due to low costs and increasing availability. Heroin overdoses have more than tripled since 2010, the CDC reported, spiking most dramatically in the Midwest.

"This is really about trying to get ahead of a nationwide epidemic that is likely going to come to Nebraska because our prescription drug monitoring techniques are improving, which is good," Morfeld said. "But we also have to be ready for the consequences of that. Potential lives that could be lost."

Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of a Good Samaritan or 911 drug immunity law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The laws vary in scope, but generally require the caller cooperate with law enforcement and remain on the scene until help arrives.

Morfeld will not prioritize the Good Samaritan bill, but he thinks it has a chance.

Last year he successfully passed a measure that allows immunity to minors seeking help for themselves or someone else in need of immediate medical attention due to alcohol poisoning. Morfeld said that shows the openness of the legislature to Good Samaritan laws.

But while last year's bill dealt with misdemeanors and minors, this bill would address all drug possession charges, including felonies, for all users. Morfeld said he can foresee some pushback on the scope of immunity for possession of narcotics, but has not yet heard any formal opposition. The Lincoln Police Department declined to comment on any legislation until a hearing is set.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press

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