Last week, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into effect bills that extend the medical amnesty act to drug users of all ages, rather than just those under the age of 21.
House Bills 5649 and 5650 passed together in the Senate in a 30-7 vote, with only a handful of Republicans voting against them, and 107-1 in the House with only state Rep. Lana Theis (R–Mich.) voting against.
The original amnesty law was sparked in part by the death of 16-year-old Mason Mizwicki, who died of a methadone overdose after taking the prescription drug at a New Year’s Eve party in 2015. Other party attendees did not call for help for the teen due to fears of criminal prosecution.
Mason’s mother, Lori Mizwicki, and his aunt, Brandi Huyser, appeared in Lansing earlier that year to testify in favor of the new bills.
State Rep. Al Pscholka (R–Mich.), who co-sponsored the new bills, said they will help to prevent deaths like Mason’s.
“Mason’s legacy will not be his death, but the lives that will be saved by this law,” Pscholka said.
The legislation also comes during a time of a widespread drug overdose epidemic across the United States, both nationwide and locally. Speaking before the signing of the bill, Snyder acknowledged that risk and called the legislation an important step forward in addressing the issue.
“The addiction epidemic in our state continues to claim too many lives and now Michiganders can seek help before more unnecessary deaths occur,” Snyder said. “This legislation is another powerful tool in the efforts to fight prescription drug and opioid abuse across our state.”
However, despite the strong support it received, the laws are not without controversy.
State Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R–Canton) was among the few senators who voted against the bill. Colbeck said while he supports the original legislation, applying the law to citizens above the age of 21 is ineffective and will result in more widespread drug abuse.
“That age limit removal, make no mistake, results in a de facto legalization of illegal drug use,” Colbeck said.
Theis, the only representative to vote “no” on the bills, echoed Colbeck’s point, saying that the laws are not fully comprehensive and need more work.
“If we are going to expand this legislation to include adults, we should require they have addiction counseling before they become immune to legal consequences, thus addressing the real problem instead of ignoring it,” Theis said. “Passing this legislation as written might result in more people seeking medical help, but it will likely also result in continued or increased drug abuse from adults who are overdosing.”
In response to these concerns, Pscholka said the legislation builds in safeguards to address these issues.
“There is language in the bill that addresses these concerns,” he said. “This is limited immunity that only addresses medical emergencies and we were very careful in working with law enforcement to create effective legislation.”
According to a study by the Senate Fiscal Agency, these laws could save the state a marginal cost of $3,764 per prisoner by avoiding prison intakes. Long-term, this would mean saving $34,550 per prisoner if the laws result in decreased prison population.
Beyond the extension of the laws, the state and legislature have also been working on a concerted policy effort to address drug use through the Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force, which Snyder established in June 2015.
The laws were also recommended by the task force, and are the only recommendations to be implemented thus far, though Pscholka noted the legislature began its efforts before the task force was created and it has yet to review and respond fully to its recommendations.
Overall, Pscholka said the bills should be seen as a step in the right direction for the state in the context of the bigger picture.
“We vote on a lot of stuff here,” he said. “We’ll probably vote on 500 or 600 bills this session. But there are only a handful of bills where you can say you’ve saved somebody’s life.”