Proposed Utah Law Could Prevent Overdose Deaths

By McCarton Ackerman 12/06/13

With overdose deaths at a seven year high, state legislators want to make sure no more people die just because someone is afraid to call the police.

The state of Utah is not so good.
Photo via Shutterstock

A Utah state representative is pushing forward a new legislative measure that would grant criminal immunity to anyone who calls police to report a drug overdose. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss (D) believes that the numerous drug overdose deaths in the state in recent years could have been prevented if people weren't afraid of the potential consequences of calling the police. The law has already been endorsed by a state criminal justice committee and the Utah Statewide Association of Prosecutors, who helped draft the legislation.

“Young people don’t always make the best decision, but they don’t deserve to die,” said Spackman Moss. “This time we really have some traction. I am just thrilled so far because this can really save lives.” The proposed law is a shift from her previous proposal to address overdose deaths, which would make it a crime for failing to report them. However, the plan was rejected by substance abuse professionals who felt it would actually cause more deaths.

One of the main catalysts for the proposed law is the 2005 death of Utah teen Amelia Sorch, whose body was dumped in the foothills by friends after she overdosed. The two friends with her said they didn’t call police because they feared arrest; they were ultimately convicted of negligent homicide and desecration of a human body. Utah is also currently facing its worse overdose death crisis, with the state health department recently reporting a seven-year high with 502 overdose deaths in total from prescription and illegal drugs.

But even if people who call police to report overdoses get immunity from simple charges of drug possession or use, Paul Boyden of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors said they could still face other possible charges such as drug dealing. However, their cooperation would help them get lighter sentences. The law will be reviewed by the full Utah Legislature next month.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.