- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Overdosing on a smoked concoction of cocaine and heroin, Tyler Auck lay dying next to a dumpster, dragged there by acquaintances who refused to call authorities out of fear of criminal prosecution.

“It’s a horrible and helpless feeling to have people touching you as you are dying and then turn their backs and walk away,” the 40-year-old Bismarck father of three and recovering drug user told North Dakota lawmakers Tuesday.

Sen. Howard Anderson, R-Turtle Lake, is pushing a measure that would grant immunity to those who seek medical help in the event of a drug overdose. The retired pharmacist told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the “Good Samaritan” law, already in place in more than 20 states, is aimed at saving lives.

“When someone gets left in the basement, the back of a car or even dropped off at the hospital with no information on what they have taken, because their ‘friends’ or acquaintances are afraid they will be prosecuted for being with them or at the same party, it is an overdose risk we can help to mitigate with this piece of legislation,” Anderson said.

Bruce Burkett, a spokesman for the North Dakota Peace Officers Association, said the measure is too broad as proposed “given the almost unlimited scenarios that can occur within the drug culture.” Burkett said in written testimony that the group would recommend changing immunity to “consideration,” with prosecutors having the final say.

West Fargo Police Chief Mike Reitan spoke in favor of the measure, which will be debated later by the full Senate.

“By providing the opportunity for immunity, we can hope those involved in the situation do the right thing and make the call that could save a life,” Reitan said.

North Dakota already has amnesty provisions for alcohol-related emergencies.

GOP Rep. Rick Becker, a plastic surgeon in Bismarck, said that law is on the books because of a “great presumption lives will be saved.” Becker also spoke in favor of including similar immunity for drug overdoses.

“It’s more important to save a life than to be able to charge someone for a drug offense,” Becker said.

Dr. Melissa Henke, who works at a Bismarck drug and alcohol treatment center, said heroin and methamphetamine abuse is on the rise in North Dakota.

“This is affecting every community,” she said. “With an increase in drug usage, we will see an increase in drug overdose deaths.”

The proposed measure sends a message “that we care more about their lives than we do about keeping our jails full,” Henke said.

Auck, who told lawmakers he has been drug-free for four years, said he also has witnessed a drug overdose and did nothing “as horrible as it sounds,” because he was “afraid what would happen when the police showed up.”

Auck urged lawmakers, who appeared riveted by his testimony, to approve the measure.

“I guarantee that no one in this room would want their loved one left by a dumpster or on a street corner to die alone, when help could be made available, if not for fear of the consequences for asking for it,” Auck said.

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