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Lawmakers OK emergency use of heroin overdose shot; Good Samaritans protected

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Narcan user
A University of Minnesota student displays his heroin tools, including a vial of naloxone. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a prescription drug used to stop an opiate overdose.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson/File

First responders rushing to aid a drug overdose victim would have the power to use the antidote Narcan under a bill passed unanimously Tuesday by the Minnesota Senate.

The legislation would also grant immunity to "Good Samaritans" who call for medical help when someone has overdosed.

Supporters of the two-part measure refer to it as "Steve's Law." It's named after Steve Rummler of Edina, who died of a heroin overdose three years ago. A companion measure in the House is awaiting final action. 

Gov. Mark Dayton, however, stopped short of making any commitments to signing the bill, saying he needs to see final language before making a decision.

Used syringes at a needle exchange clinic
Used syringes at a needle exchange clinic.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Under the Senate bill, more people would be able to carry and administer Naloxone, which can revive a person who has overdosed on an opiate, like heroin. The legislation includes emergency medical responders, peace officers and community-based prevention program staffers, once they've been authorized by a licensed physician.

Bill author Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, lost a daughter to drugs. Had the proposed changes been in place, she said, her daughter might still be alive.

"The guy who was with her when she used heroin watched her die, hid paraphernalia, denied to the police he knew what was wrong, and by the time they got Naloxone, Narcan, to her it was too late and she died," Eaton said on the Senate floor. "That was in 2007 and she was 23 years old." 

Eaton said the proposed language encourages people to seek emergency help for someone suffering from a drug overdose without fear of legal consequences.

"If you honestly believe somebody with you is overdosing on drugs, you can call 911 for help and you're immune from prosecution for what is at the scene, for what is there, for the drugs present, for the paraphernalia," Eaton said. "If you have other things going on, if the police are investigating you before this every happens, all of that is still in play."

Heroin
Injecting heroin.
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

The 65-0 Senate vote came with little debate and in spite of the concerns of some law enforcement groups. 

James Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association, said he supports the life-saving concept of the bill, but he thinks the immunity provision is too broad and will hinder investigators.

"Theoretically, it's possible that people could commit some serious type of crimes here, but law enforcement would be prohibited from using this evidence," Franklin said.  

Passing the law will make a big difference, said Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-Cottage Grove, chief sponsor of the House bill who's also police officer. 

"I will guarantee you lives will be saved," he said. "Next year, when we come back after this bill is going to be passed, we're going to have data from around the state that are going to tell us that up in Koochiching County they saved a life. That's somebody's kid. That's somebody's grandkid, husband or wife. This is going to make a positive effect."

Schoen is confident about the bill becoming law. 

Dayton, however, wasn't ready to commit to signing a bill.

"All of us want somebody who's in a life threatening situation to have access to emergency care as rapidly as possible," Dayton said.

"There are variations of it, whether this person who would be making the call is on the same drug himself or herself, whether they're the dealer, all those kind of contingencies," he added. "It's hard to make that kind of policy as it applies to 5.3 million people. But they're making their best effort to do it, and I'm open to looking at it."  

Similar immunity and Naloxone measures are now law in Wisconsin. On Monday, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed them as part of a package of seven bills known as Heroin Opiate Prevention and Education.