The Columbia City Council heard a report on a possible good Samaritan ordinance at its Monday night meeting.
The proposed ordinance would be based on a similar law St. Louis enacted in June. The good Samaritan ordinance would protect people seeking medical care in case of a drug overdose from facing drug charges, as well as those asking for assistance for someone having an overdose.
According to the St. Louis ordinance, drug-overdose deaths are a leading cause of accidental deaths in the nation and have increased significantly in recent years in St. Louis. The ordinance also states drug-overdose deaths could considerably decrease if there was immunity under the law in case of a medical emergency.
The Columbia proposal states it’s “unlawful for any person to possess drug paraphernalia,” even if they are calling for medical assistance in the case of a drug overdose. The ordinance defines drug paraphernalia as any illegal drug that is injected, ingested or inhaled.
“The purpose of the law is to forgive drug offenses if it going to save someone’s life,” Councilman Ian Thomas said. “In order for that to be effective the people who are in the position of potentially calling an ambulance or other emergency services need to know that they are not going to be prosecuted for their own involvement in a drug activity.”
Thomas said there would need to be a strong communication campaign throughout the community about the change in law so that residents know they would be protected when calling for medical help.
“I think that there has been and still is in many areas in Missouri a very punishing, punitive attitude towards drug use,” Thomas said. “There is a belief that by imposing extremely harsh penalties on drug users we will somehow deter people from participating in that activity.”
Thomas believes the proposed ordinance is representing a change in attitude concerning drug use in Missouri.
“The drug use rates have not gone down and the types of pilot programs that offer counseling, offer rehabilitation services and do not make it a criminal offense are the ones who are more effective in actually reducing drug use, which is the goal,” Thomas said.
Councilman Karl Skala expressed concerns about taking a St. Louis ordinance and directly applying it to Columbia without considering the differences between the two cities.
The council plans to consider a rough draft for the ordinance at its Nov. 7 meeting. The ordinance would protect people from possession charges but not sales or distribution charges.