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Lawmakers expand shield for those seeking medical help from prosecution

The proposal now on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis would extend the immunity to people who are in possession of drug paraphernalia or less than 10 grams of a controlled substance if they seek medical assistance with a drug or alcohol overdose.
Drug paraphernalia (digital gram scale). [Photo courtesy of the Hernando County Sheriff's Department]
Drug paraphernalia (digital gram scale). [Photo courtesy of the Hernando County Sheriff's Department]
Published Apr. 25

Every year, tens of thousands of people die in Florida from drug or alcohol overdoses. To curtail those numbers, the Florida Legislature on Wednesday passed legislation that would shield people from arrest or prosecution of certain crimes if they seek medical help for themselves or someone else undergoing a drug or alcohol overdose.

The Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure (HB 595) that would expand the state’s Good Samaritan Act, enacted in 2012.

Under the current law, individuals who are in possession of a controlled substance cannot be charged, prosecuted or penalized if the substance is discovered as a result of a “good faith effort” to seek medical help, for themselves or others, for a drug overdose.

The proposal now on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis would extend the immunity to people who are in possession of drug paraphernalia or less than 10 grams of a controlled substance if they seek medical assistance with a drug or alcohol overdose.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. David Silvers, D-Palm Beach, is aimed at encouraging people to seek medical assistance by providing immunity under certain circumstances for giving alcohol to a person younger than 21 years of age or possessing or consuming alcohol when under 21 years of age.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, had filed a similar measure (SB 530) that also included protections for individuals who were trafficking drugs or intending to sell drugs at the time they called for medical help. But the measure passed by the Senate on Wednesday included a narrower list of crimes that would be eligible for immunity.

To receive immunity in instances of an alcohol-related overdose, individuals must remain at the scene and cooperate with law enforcement and medical personnel, something not required for people who seek help for a drug-related overdose.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, drug overdose rates have increasingly escalated over the years as a result of an increase in opioid and opiate use. A recent report by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission found that more than 104,000 people died in Florida from a drug or alcohol overdose in the first half of 2017.

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