By Haley Egle
Murphy News Service
Minnesota lawmakers in both the House and the Senate hope that recent negotiations with law enforcement groups will help build support for a bill providing amnesty for people who report heroin overdoses by calling 911.
Several legislators met with the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association last week to refine the bill, called “Steve’s Law,” or the Good Samaritan and Naloxone bill. The bill passed the Senate unanimously last week and currently is before the House.
If passed, the bill would allow access to the drug Naloxone to first responders as well as the public. Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, counteracts the effects of a heroin overdose and stabilizes breathing, often keeping victims alive until medical help arrives. The bill also includes a Good
Samaritan section that provides immunity to someone who may be under the influence of illegal drugs and calls 911 to report an overdose.
Death from heroin overdoses has surged nationally and in the Twin Cities. In Hennepin County, 54 people died from overdoses last year, compared to six in 2008.
The Good Samaritan portion of the bill has raised concerns with some law enforcement officials and prosecutors. University of Minnesota Deputy Police Chief Chuck Miner said that medical amnesty laws, like an underage consumption amnesty law that went into effect last year, often come with unintended consequences. With this bill, some in law enforcement are concerned that dealers who are supplying the lethal drugs could avoid punishment by making a 911 call, Miner said.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, said that some language changes being considered for the bill could help to ensure that it will garner bipartisan support as it moves to the House. The new language would clarify that someone who calls for help and is in possession of paraphernalia and/or two or three doses of heroin would qualify for immunity, but anyone with more heroin would not be exempt, Eaton said. “We’re not talking about dealers here, we’re talking more about kids throwing together money and buying smaller amounts for recreational use.”
Eaton’s own daughter died of a heroin overdose in 2007. The person she was with did not call for help, Eaton said. Eaton explained that 80 percent of people who use heroin do it with a companion. When they overdose, they are found dead alone. This bill would make companions more inclined to call for help rather than fleeing, hopefully preventing their companions from dying, Eaton said. “I hope this means that no more parents will have to go through what I went through,” Eaton said. “Any lives saved because of this bill will give some meaning to my daughter’s death.”
Heroin overdose a nationwide “public health crisis”
The legislation comes just one month after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called heroin and prescription drug use a “public health crisis” in a video posted on the Justice Department’s website. Holder said that heroin related overdose deaths nationally have increased by 45 percent between 2006 and 2010.
Experts say the increase in heroin use is driven in large part by the transition from abuse of prescription painkillers to use of heroin, which is often cheaper and easily available. Experts also say that drug traffickers have been trying to establish a market in the Twin Cities, resulting in some of the cheapest and purest heroin in the country.
Steve’s law was named after Steve Rummler, an Edina High School and University of Minnesota graduate who died of a heroin overdose in 2011.
According to the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation website, his addiction and subsequent death were a result of what began as an addiction to prescription pain killers for a back injury.
Rummler’s former fiancé and vice president of the foundation, Lexi Reed Holtum, was thrilled with the passage of the bill through the Senate. “This will save lives on both sides, Democrat and Republican, every walk of life,” Holtum said. “It’s the best possible choice for Minnesota.”
Eaton says she is confident that the bill will successfully move through the House. And although she has not spoken with him directly, she believes that Gov. Mark Dayton will sign it.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed that state’s version of the law, called HOPE, on Monday, making it the twentieth state to adopt such legislation.
“Their’s is better,” Eaton said of Wisconsin’s law, noting that it includes funding for treatment of those with opiate addiction.
Eaton said she believes that increasing emphasis on access to treatment is the key to saving lives. “We are treating addiction as a crime rather than a medical issue,” Eaton said. “Addiction is an illness, and until we start treating it that way we’ll only keep filling up our jails.”