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Illinois to Addicts: Drop Dead!

A controversial state proposal would dilute legal immunity for people who call 911 for their OD'ing friends.

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By Rebecca Gray

03/09/12

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A proposed amendment to Illinois' "Good Samaritan" law threatens to undermine its original purpose, critics say. The current law was signed on February 6 and is due to go into effect in June; it grants limited immunity from prosecution to those who call 911 about drug overdoses—like several laws either proposed or passed in other states. Its aim is to encourage people to seek emergency medical aid without fear of legal repercussions; it was passed in the face of a growing heroin problem in Illinois. But now Illinois representative Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) is lobbying to add a new clause, to decree compulsory drug treatment for the both the OD victim and the 911 caller. Refusal means prosecution. Critics say the proposal would effectively nullify the law by once again invoking the fear of legal sanctions for 911 callers. “Drug users witnessing an overdose should not have to make a choice between entering treatment or not calling 911 during the crucial moments,” says Illinois resident Karen Hanneman, who fought to get the current law passed. Durkin's justification for his amendment is based on getting more people in need into substance abuse treatment. But his proposal offers treatment not as an option, but as an ultimatum. Director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy Kathleen Kane-Willis sees both sides. “Would we like treatment on demand for folks who are treated for overdose? Absolutely. That would be great," she says. "The problem is, making the immunity dependent on treatment has an impact on people who can't afford it… That one statement might make someone not call. It really waters the immunity down.”

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