Bill could extend medical amnesty to drug use

Sunday, December 13, 2015 - 6:22pm

Following the successful implementation of medical amnesty for minors who consumed alcohol, Michigan representatives have introduced a bill to extend this amnesty to drug use as well.

As stated in the bill, medical amnesty will prevent legal penalties for individuals under 21 who seek medical assistance for drug use for themselves or another.

Rep. Al Pscholka (R–Stevensville) introduced House Bill 4843 in August, aiming to encourage those at risk of overdosing to seek help by granting medical amnesty.

Pscholka introduced the bill after a Michigan teen died from a drug overdose and his friends did not get him medical help for fear of getting in legal trouble, according to CBS Detroit.

The bill is an amendment to Michigan’s 1978 Public Act 368 titled, “Public health code,” which discusses the legal repercussions of being found in possession of drugs. Legal action taken with regard to drug possession often includes felony or misdemeanor charges or paying a fine, depending on the type and amount of the drug.

Lifetime probation or compliance with substance abuse and addiction services are potential penalties as well.

According to the University’s National College Health Assessment survey from February 2014, 70 percent of undergraduates reported drinking alcohol at least once in the past month, and 21 percent reported using marijuana at least once in the past month. Eight percent of undergraduate students reported using drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy in the past month. All of these numbers had increased since a previous NCHA survey taken in 2010.   

Mary Jo Desprez, director of Wolverine Wellness, said alcohol and other drug use is a problem that spans the entire student population. Wolverine Wellness is a program housed in University Health Services that, in part, addresses the potential harm of drug use on campus.

Though freshmen are often the highest risk group for drug use, Desprez said students of all ages are affected. Though the bill addresses drug use, she said alcohol abuse continues to be a bigger issue on the University campus.

Desprez said medical amnesty laws are usually created to address the fear students experience when debating whether or not to seek medical assistance.

“At U-M we have a caring community and most students tell us they would call for help regardless if they were worried about a friend or a fellow student,” Desprez wrote in an e-mail interview with The Michigan Daily. “For those few that might not, this law could provide an additional measure of certainty.”

However, these laws have the potential to limit the ability of health care professionals to follow up with drug users, Desprez said. Prior to the introduction of this bill, it was often the citation that students would receive from drug possession or other unlawful acts that allowed the court to require an educational intervention.

“When you remove that accountability loop we lose a strategy to talk with people about what role alcohol and other drug use is playing in their lives,” Desprez wrote. “We should continue to advocate for these laws to include options for addressing the potential continued harm to that person beyond the danger that is happening that night.”

Desprez said through education programs, Wolverine Wellness aims to intervene before any overdose happens in the first place.

“We have a lot more potential to help people by moderating their behavior before they get to the point of overdose,” Desprez wrote. “If students learned how to care for their friends long before a potential overdose was happening we could prevent a large majority of these situations.”

LSA junior Erin Dunne, co-director of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy organization on campus, said students’ misunderstanding of the amnesty policy plays a large role in limiting reporting.

“There’s a lot of catches in these laws that might make some students be afraid,” Dunne said.

While some believe that medical amnesty laws could go too far, particularly in the case of students abusing the privilege to stay out of legal trouble, Dunne said SSDP generally believes medical amnesty should apply to all drugs and situations.

“You should never be in a situation where you are going to get in trouble for a medical condition, be that a condition, overdose or misuse,” she said.

Ultimately, Dunne said medical amnesty is crucial, especially considering the Michigan teen that died potentially because this provision was not in place.