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Government, Politics & Issues

Aldermen vote to shield drug users who call 9-1-1

Chad Sabora of the Missouri Network for Opiate Reform & Recovery watches as the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approve the Good Samaritan bill he supported.
Liz Schlemmer | St. Louis Public Radio intern
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A bill that aims to reduce fatal heroin overdoses is on its way to Mayor Francis Slay’s desk.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved the so-called Good Samaritan bill. It offers immunity from drug possession charges for those who seek medical help for someone experiencing an overdose.

Individuals could still be arrested for other crimes, or if they have outstanding warrants.

State law does not offer the same protection. But Alderman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, says the city has to do something to combat an epidemic of overdose deaths.

“If we are to wait for the state of Missouri to act in the best interest of the citizens of the city of St. Louis, we will be waiting until we are all dead,” Spencer said.

Alderman Antonio French, D-21st Ward, says it’s a well-intentioned measure, but he’s worried police won’t give immunity to everyone equally because it’s not state law.

The law would only apply to municipal charges, so its effectiveness relies on officers and prosecutors applying the immunity under local jurisdiction.

“We still have to continue to push the state legislature to do the right thing and give the same equal protection to everybody, every citizen, regardless of what officer shows up and really regardless of any prejudice that the different officers may have,” French said.

Spencer says she agrees that a statewide law would be better, but this is the best solution the city can offer. She also says she hopes St. Louis County and neighboring areas will pass similar measures.

Mayor Francis Slay is expected to sign the bill into law.

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