Sponsor of bills to help overdose victims looks for next challenge in drug abuse fight

The sponsor of Missouri’s new law providing some immunity for those seeking help for overdose victims says he’s achieved all he set out to do, and is looking for other ways to help substance abusers.

Representative Steve Lynch (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Senate Bill 501 contained language offered by Representative Steve Lynch (R-Waynesville).  It provides immunity to anyone seeking medical help for themselves or anyone else who is overdosing, from crimes including possessing small amounts of drugs; probation, parole, or restraining order violations; and underage drinking.

Lynch said that combined with other laws allowing first responders, friends, and loved ones of abusers to have and administer naloxone – a drug that counteracts opioid overdoses – could save lives.  Lawmakers considering the bill heard that often a person will die of an overdose or from drinking too much because others don’t call for help out of fear they will be prosecuted for crimes or face other consequences.

“In North Carolina where they did their bills the same year it was just a couple years later that there were more drug rescues than there were overdose deaths,” said Lynch.  “We are certainly hoping that will be the case for us.”

Lynch also sponsored the language that in 2014 and 2016 became the laws related to naloxone.

He began working on these issues after learning that the son of one of his childhood friends died of a heroin overdose.

“What inspired me was he was taking his sadness and turning it into something positive, and he became an advocate that other parents wouldn’t have to go through what he did,” said Lynch, who said as he’s worked on these issues he’s seen many other parents who do the same.  “To turn all their energies around and to try and get laws changed, to raise awareness … It inspired me to get into an area that I don’t really know much about.”

Having sponsored now a series of laws aimed at saving the lives of overdose victims, Lynch is now wondering what the next such issue to tackle might be.  He’s meeting with the advocacy groups he’s worked with before in looking for the next steps that could be taken.

“Most of those areas are going to be in the treatment side and in the prevention side, and certainly those are so important,” said Lynch.  “Saving their lives is such a narrow part but important part of it, but if we can get people not to use it or if we can get people off of heroin or the opioid addiction … I’m really looking forward to making some progress on some treatment laws.”

Meanwhile, Lynch says there must be an awareness campaign so that people with drug problems know about the laws that have been passed in recent years and can take advantage of them.

“I’ve already talked to some of the people that I’ve been dealing with on these bills for years, particularly in the metropolitan areas, to run some big awareness [campaigns] that you can call because if they don’t know, they’re still not going to call,” said Lynch.  “Unfortunately it’s not just the metro areas that are having problems – it’s everywhere.”

The immunity law is often called the “Good Samaritan” law, or “Bailey and Cody’s Law,” for two overdose victims whose parents believe having it in place might have saved their children’s lives.

House passes bill to shield those seeking help for overdose victims

The state House has approved a bill that supporters hope will prevent overdose deaths.

Representative Steve Lynch (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Steve Lynch (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 294 would give immunity from charges for minor possession of drugs or paraphernalia or being under the influence to a person who calls for emergency medical attention for someone who is overdosing on drugs or alcohol, and would give immunity to the person in need of medical attention.

The bill’s sponsor, Representative Steve Lynch (R-Waynesville), called the bill an effort at “harm reduction,” and refers to it as “Bailey and Cody’s law,” for two overdose victims whose parents believe that having such a law in place might have saved their children’s lives.

“I fight hard on this issue because I believe that every life is valuable, and that some, because of bad decisions, or bad circumstances, or bad home life, or running with the wrong group, make one wrong decision sometimes and because heroin or opioids are so powerful, it takes all those dreams that they had and all those goals, and it becomes the next fix that becomes their focus,” said Lynch.

Lynch’s legislation won bipartisan praise and support.  Velda Village Hills Democrat Clem Smith said in the neighborhood he grew up in, he saw people who had overdosed and their bodies were left, sometimes for days, in places like alleys and empty lots by people afraid of being prosecuted if they called for help.

“I’m glad that your bill will allow that somebody could get some help.  Sometimes it’s those minutes that make a difference,” said Smith.

Lynch said this “Good Samaritan” bill has been shown in other states and local areas to save lives, particularly when working in conjunction with bills that allow first responders or friends and loved ones to have and administer naloxone – a drug that counteracts overdoses to opioids, including heroin.  Missouri in 2014 and 2016 enacted such laws, both also sponsored by Lynch.

Lake St. Louis Republican Justin Hill, a former police officer, was one of 21 “no” votes against HB 294.  He said by giving immunity to callers and those overdosing, the bill takes away an opportunity to get those individuals into treatment programs.

“There’s all kinds of problems with this, and here’s another bill that purports to help people with a drug problem that makes it worse,” said Hill.

The bill passed with 134 votes and goes to the Senate for consideration.

Earlier story:  Proposed ‘Good Samaritan Law’ aims to save the lives of some who would overdose

Proposed ‘Good Samaritan Law’ aims to save the lives of some who would overdose

A state House member wants to encourage people to call for help for friends and loved ones having an overdose.

Representative Steve Lynch presents his proposed
Representative Steve Lynch presents his proposed “Good Samaritan” law, which he believes would save lives of some who would suffer from an overdose. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Waynesville Republican Steve Lynch says his legislation, House Bill 294, is commonly known as a “good Samaritan” law.  It would protect a person from arrest or prosecution for charges related to minor possession of drugs or paraphernalia, or being under the influence, if that person calls for emergency medical help for a person suffering a drug or alcohol overdose.

“Good Samaritan laws like this one address the fear of criminal repercussions for assisting and seeking medical emergency services while they may have a small amount of drugs on them or may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” said Lynch.

Lynch alternately refers to the bill as “Bailey and Cody’s Law,” for two overdose victims, each of whom had a parent testify in favor of HB 294 in a House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety hearing.

Jim Marshall thinks such a law would have prevented friends of his son, Cody, from leaving where he was found by his father:  on the living room floor dying of an overdose.

“I really believe those young men feared the perception of what we’re talking about – of being prosecuted, being blamed for the overdose situation,” said Marshall.  “I think that’s the big part of this whole scenario here.  Even if the police are saying they have discretion to prosecute, there’s that fear.”

Lisa Benton said friends of her daughter, Bailey, watched as she had two seizures and waited for a drug dealer to leave before calling 911.

“I don’t see how anybody could watch anybody suffer like that, and I know that my daughter made a terrible choice to do drugs, but she didn’t deserve to lose her life.  She should be here right now,” said Benton.  “I strongly believe that if this law was in effect that it would have saved her.”

Representative Justin Hill (R-Lake St. Louis) asked whether the bill goes far enough to truly make a difference.

“If somebody knows they can still be charged with manslaughter or distribution, does this fix the problem?” asked Hill.

Supporters told Hill the bill would be part of a series of steps toward addressing the problem.  Lynch said another of those steps was taken last year, when the legislature passed and former Governor Jay Nixon signed a bill to make a heroin overdose antidote more readily available.