'Good Samaritan' Law Bars St. Louis Cops from Arresting Drug Users Who Call 911 for Overdoses

click to enlarge Mayor Francis Slay signs a good Samaritan bill that protects drug users who call 911 to report overdoses. - Photo by Doyle Murphy
Photo by Doyle Murphy
Mayor Francis Slay signs a good Samaritan bill that protects drug users who call 911 to report overdoses.
St. Louis just made it OK to call 911 if your buddy has overdosed and might die.

Mayor Francis signed a “Good Samaritan” bill this morning that would bar cops from arresting addicts who report drug-related medical emergencies in the city. It’s believed to be the first municipal ordinance of its kind in the nation.

“This is about saving lives,” Slay said at a news conference. “This is about addressing an epidemic.”

Supporters of Board Bill 40 say the fear of arrest keeps some people from calling for help when a friend falls out. The results can be deadly. A total of 117 people died last year in the city from accidental opiate overdoses.

“I shudder to think how many people could have been saved if their friends had just called for help,” said Slay, who has publicly described his brother’s struggle with heroin addiction.

Heroin use has become a national crisis in recent years — the Centers for Disease Control describe the problem as an “epidemic.”

In fact, Slay says he got an eye-opening reminder of the overdose problem early this morning when he discovered a 41-year-old man slumped behind the wheel of a idling pickup outside his home.

“I don’t know how bad he was, but he needed some help,” said Slay.

The mayor called 911, and when police responded at 12:15 a.m., they found the man still sitting in the Dodge Ram, blocking traffic in the 7100 block of Trainor. He seemed disoriented, and dropped a syringe when officers asked him to get out out of the truck, police say. Cops found more syringes inside the Dodge. The man was arrested and his truck towed.

Alderwoman Cara Spencer, who sponsored the bill, says the new city law is still tough on drug dealers, offering no protection for those with weapons or large quantities of drugs, as well as those operating known drug houses. But providing immunity from low-level possession charges could encourage people to make a life-saving phone call, she said.

“With this bill, the City of St. Louis has put lives first in the fight against drug addiction,” Spencer said.

The bill is a sharp contrast to the policies popularized in recent years in the Metro East, where prosecutors have filed drug-induced homicide charges against addicts who were using opiates with friends who died. 

“That’s bullshit,” said Chad Sabora, director of Missouri Network for Opiate Reform and Recovery. “It has a horrible effect. It causes more people not to call for help.”

Sabora hosted the bill signing at the network’s South Broadway headquarters. He has spent the past four years advocating for a statewide good Samaritan law. The St. Louis bill along with similar ordinances being considered in other Missouri municipalities show they’re making progress, he says.

“The people have spoken,” he says. “They want this passed.”

We welcome tips and feedback. Email they author at [email protected] or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.
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