New Illinois Law Provides Immunity In Drug Overdose Emergencies
Like much of the United States, Illinois is in the midst of heroin and pain pill public health crisis. Each year in Illinois, more people die as a result of accidental drug overdose than are killed in car accidents, the Huffington Post reported recently. In fact, drug overdoses claim more lives in Illinois than any other cause of accidental death. Sadly, many fatal drug overdoses occur when there are others nearby who could seek life-saving medical help - but are reluctant to do so for fear of criminal prosecution.
Emergency Medical Services Act
Hoping to help curb the state's overdose crisis and encourage people to seek help when drug-related medical emergencies occur, Illinois lawmakers recently passed the Emergency Medical Services Act. In the event of an overdose, the EMSA provides limited immunity for possession of small amounts of drugs. Studies show that fear of criminal prosecution is the primary reason that people fail seek help when drug overdoses occur, and supporters of the new law hope it will encourage people who witness drug overdoses to call 911.
The EMSA provides that a person who seeks emergency medical assistance for someone experiencing an overdose will not be charged for Class 4 felony possession of a controlled substance if evidence of the possession charge was obtained as a result of his or her attempt to obtain medical attention. The person experiencing an overdose is similarly protected. Immunity applies only when the quantity of drugs in the person's possession are within certain limits, which vary by substance. For example, the EMSA provides immunity for possession of up to 3 grams of heroin or cocaine, or up to 40 grams of barbiturates.
Illinois Drug Overdose Prevention Act
Another law aimed at preventing drug overdose fatalities in Illinois was passed in 2010 and remains in effect today. The Illinois Drug Overdose Prevention Act expanded access to naloxone, an opiate antidote used to treat drug overdoses. The DOPA made it legal for people outside the legal profession to administer naloxone to others in order to reverse a potentially fatal drug overdose. The Huffington Post reported that the Chicago Recovery Alliance, an organization that trains individuals to administer naloxone, has documented nearly 3,000 instances in which the antidote has been used to reverse overdoses and save lives in the Chicagoland area.
The American Medical Association recommended recently that more people - medical providers, law enforcement personnel and laypersons alike - should be trained in using naloxone to treat drug overdoses. This includes people living in households with those who have been prescribed opiate medications for medical reasons, as well as family and friends of those who use heroin or prescription painkillers illegally.
People facing criminal charges for drug-related offenses in Illinois are encouraged to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to learn about their rights and legal options.
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