By: COLIN MACDOUGALL
My generation faces a growing drug problem. Opiate drug overdoses have been on the rise in the last several years and 911 calls for help occur less than 50 percent of the time. The fear of police involvement deters many from calling for help. But, there’s a simple solution to this problem: creating a decent and effective medical amnesty, or a Good Samaritan law, in Michigan. A medical amnesty law is a law that creates disciplinary immunity or immunity from punishment in a drug emergency situation or medical emergency involving a substance.
Michigan has two medical amnesty laws already – one which was passed in 2012 protecting minors who have suffered an alcohol emergency and the other, passed more recently in December 2015, protects minors who have overdosed on prescription pills. These two laws are a great start, but a large part of our community is still not protected underneath these laws.
“Even though Michigan lawmakers have passed both of those, actually, the most recent one was passed unanimously in the legislature…. They thought only prescription drugs should be covered,” said Reid Murdoch a third year law student from the University of Michigan.
Murdoch is the co-chair of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at U-M, and also works on the Washtenaw Health Initiative Opioid Projects harm reduction sub-committee.
U-M’s student government recently passed a resolution, introduced by Murdoch and the SSDP chapters, calling for better medical amnesty laws. It passed in their student congress unanimously, with a 26-0 vote.
“First of all, we think that universities should change their policies on medical amnesty. The resolution also says that the state law should be changed,” Murdoch said.
Theresa Dreyer holds a community organizing role in the WHI Opioid Project. She has a Masters Degree in Public Health and works for an organization called Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation at U-M. CHRT staffs the WHI projects, which focus on making sure that care in this community is organized, particularly to help those with low-income.
Dreyer found in her research that the local trends of Washtenaw County were similar those of state and national. Dreyer noted, “(In the State of Michigan), the number of deaths went from 81 in 1999 to 519 in 2013.”
The WHI Opioid task force has accomplished equipping deputies with Naloxone, which is the generic name, also known as Narcan, in the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department.
At the state level, after being presented with the findings of the Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Task Force’s comprehensive findings and recommendations, Gov. Rick Snyder was quoted saying, “The impact of prescription drug and opioid abuse is being felt in every community across Michigan. It crosses all demographic, geographic and political lines.”
Lt. Governor Brian Calley, who was appointed chair of the task force stated, “We clearly have a lot to address, but one of the goals of the task force was to present recommendations that we knew were achievable.”
It’s time now for the Executive and Legislative branches to put their words to action. The people of Michigan need a medical amnesty law that protects all members of the community against all types of harmful substances regardless of the legality. The number of overdoses and deaths in our state has risen into an epidemic. If we as a state do not face these problems now, we will continue to suffer the unintended consequences these drugs have on our community.