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Bill to give immunity for reporting overdoses advances

Published January 29, 2014 7:52 pm

HB11 • Seeks to reduce overdose deaths by removing fear for seeking aid.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, told how 18-year-old Amelia Sorich died of an overdose while two friends stood by with phones in hand, but did note dare to call for help because they "were more fearful for themselves than for their dying friend." They dumped her body in Bountiful's foothills.

The story helped Moss — whose stepson died of an overdose last year — convince the House Wednesday to unanimously pass her HB11 to grant limited criminal immunity to people who notify police or other emergency responders in the event of an overdose. It now goes to the Senate.

Moss said overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in both Utah and the United States — with 502 in Utah last year — surpassing even those from car accidents.

She added that 15 other states have passed similar "Good Samaritan" laws.

The legislation would gives people immunity from prosecution for drug use or possession if they called 911 or took an overdose victim to a medical facility for help, identified themselves, remained with the victim and did their best to answer questions, including what type of drugs may have been used.

It would not grant immunity for other types of crimes, such as selling drugs, assault or theft — but would allow calling for help and cooperation with authorities to be used as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

Moss noted that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had vetoed a similar bill until it was amended in a way that is similar to the one she is sponsoring, with the Republican governor saying, "We don't want to give carte blanche to drug dealers." Moss added, "And we don't either."

But some lawmakers questioned if it would be more wise not to require callers to identify themselves.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, noted that Colorado had set up a tip line that required identification, and received only 10 calls in a year. Once it allowed anonymous notification, he said calls increased into the thousands.

Rep. Rich Cunningham, R-South Jordan — who said the bill "hits close to home" because he recently lost a 35-year-old nephew to an overdose — said those close to the nephew were afraid to call and become associated with his drug abuse by identifying themselves to police and others.

"I am concerned that guilt by association can come into play," he said — although he said he still supported the bill even if it does not allow anonymity.