Iowa House Republicans are pursuing several law changes, including the introduction of Good Samaritan protections, in an effort to curb opioid abuse in the state.
On Friday, Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, introduced a bill that also contained changes related to prescribing practices and reporting requirements for users of overdose-reversal medications.
She said the ideas are based on the work of the Opioid Epidemic Evaluation Study Committee, of which she and Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, were members. The lawmakers agreed the bill should have bipartisan support.
“I think we’re working together. That’s what the people back home want to see,” Lundgren said. “I think we’ll continue to do so.”
Good Samaritan provisions would give some legal immunity to people who call 911 to report an overdose. Only specific offenses are covered.
Callers would be immune from charges of possession of a controlled substance, providing a controlled substance to another without making a profit, possessing drug paraphernalia or facilitating a gathering where controlled substances are being unlawfully used.
Protections only would be valid if the caller hasn’t previously received such immunity, and he or she would have to stay on scene and cooperate with first responders.
“We can’t save a life if we don’t have someone to call 911,” Lundgren said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 40 states and the District of Columbia have such protections.
Dubuque County Sheriff Joe Kennedy said he has concerns about Good Samaritan protections, noting they could hinder investigations when officers can’t hold people accountable.
“We need that leverage when dealing with drug users and dealers to get to the higher sources,” Kennedy said.
Lundgren said the bill language was vetted with a group of county attorneys to avoid “loopholes” for dealers.
“This is not a protection for drug dealers, and we don’t want it to be used as such,” she said.
The bill also would require narcotics prescribers to register for and use the state’s prescription monitoring program. It also would require prescriptions to be sent directly to pharmacies.
Lundgren said the change is meant to deter people who are “doctor-shopping” or tampering with written prescriptions.
First responders and pharmacies also would be required to report dispersal of overdose-reversal medications to the prescription monitoring program.
In an email, Isenhart said he doesn’t believe the response to the opioid crisis is a partisan issue.
“It’s about saving lives, pure and simple,” he said.
Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, said he hasn’t reviewed the bill in detail but generally supports the concepts proposed. It’s an issue he frequently hears about from constituents.
“It’s something I’m very willing to take a closer look at and learn more about,” he said.
In an email, Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, said the “opioid epidemic is a tragedy.”
“... I look forward to working together with Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that will deliver needed aid to those families affected by this growing crisis,” she wrote.