Rapert bill would offer immunity from prosecution to people seeking medical care for drug overdose | Arkansas Blog

Friday, March 27, 2015

Rapert bill would offer immunity from prosecution to people seeking medical care for drug overdose

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 4:39 PM

RAPERT: Bill aims to save lives via more sensible drug policy.
  • RAPERT: Bill aims to save lives via more sensible drug policy.
How about we highlight a good, thoughtful bill among all the legislative shenanigans? And from Sen. Jason Rapert no less. 

The "Joshua Ashley-Pauley Act," SB 543, so named for a Faulkner County constituent of Rapert's who died of a drug overdose in Faulkner County, would give immunity from prosecution for drug possession to someone seeking medical assistance due to a drug overdose. This would apply to someone seeking medical assistance for him or herself, or another person seeking medical assistance on his or her behalf. Ashley-Pauley's father gave emotional testimony in a House committee on Wednesday on the importance of giving people dealing with a potential drug overuse an avenue to seek medical treatment without a fear of prosecution that may keep them in the shadows, a potentially fatal choice. A similar law in North Carolina has saved an estimated twenty lives. 

The bill passed the House 84-0 yesterday and it will head back to a Senate committee after being amended in the House. 

First off: this is a good idea. Supposedly "tough on drugs" policy that leads to people avoiding medical assistance for fear of prosecution is counterproductive, to say the least.

It is worth pointing out that this is precisely why "personhood" bills aiming to criminalize mothers who are battling drug addiction is an atrocious idea. It only serves to make mothers less likely to seek medical care, less likely to seek treatment or rehabilitation for their addiction, and less likely to be honest with medical providers. Of course, Rapert might see that one differently. 

Meanwhile, the legislature simultaneously appears set to push forward a program to drug test people who receive benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, or TANF. This has been tried in other states and it's both costly and an ineffective means to get folks into substance abuse programs. Instead it adds bureaucratic red tape, administrative burden, and shaming stigma on poor people — and threatens vulnerable kids if parents lose their benefits. In short, it's the same old-fashioned, mindless grandstanding on drugs which has led to so much counterproductive and thoughtless policy in this country for decades.

Rapert's SB 543 is the opposite: a common-sense, humane approach focused on real-world results instead of posturing. On this one: Good for him, and good for the legislature.

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