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Kansas gets Good Samaritan overdose law. But people on parole are left out

Hugo Phan

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has signed a bill to include drug overdoses in the state’s Good Samaritan law.

The law will protect people who seek medical help for someone experiencing a drug overdose from criminal prosecution if they have a small amount of an illegal substance.

The bill is one of the latest measures intended to help curb rising overdose deaths in the state, mostly due to fentanyl.

“It’s critical that all Kansans are empowered to seek or deliver medical assistance during an emergency,” Kelly said in a news release. “This bill is a lifeline for families and Kansans who are battling substance use disorders. It will save lives and provide the opportunity for recovery.”

Studiessuggest that overdose deaths are lower in states that have a Good Samaritan law. Coupled with other public health policies, like naloxone accessibility, it can be even more effective.

Advocates who work with people in recovery, and those who still use substances, have been calling for the bill's passage for years.

While advocates said the bill is a step in the right direction to help prevent even more overdoses in the state, people on parole, probation or work release were left out of the protections.

“It’s a crucial step in ensuring that individuals in overdose situations are not deterred from seeking help,” Safe Streets CEO Aonya Kendrick Barnett said. “I am disheartened that the law doesn’t extend to individuals on probation or parole. Everyone deserves the chance to access life-saving assistance without fear of punitive measures.

“We must continue to advocate for the inclusivity of all individuals regardless of their legal status.”

Other advocates like Seth Dewey from the Kansas Recovery Network said people on parole or probation could also be more affected by substance use.

“So many times we hear people say, ‘Oh, well, you just do the right thing.’ Well, it's easy to say that when you're not in that position,” Dewey said.

“That's the whole point of laws like this: to offer that protection … for us to avoid having to put people in those types of positions.”

The bill was sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of representatives from across the state.

An original amendment to the bill offered protection for people on parole and probation. But law enforcement groups said they wouldn’t support the bill, causing lawmakers to remove the amendment to allow the proposal to move forward.

Provisions in the bill also don’t protect people who manufacture or distribute illegal substances.

Advocates and people in the public health sector now have to work to educate residents about the bill once it becomes law July 1.

“I think this is an opportunity for people involved in prevention and harm reduction, criminal justice, departments of health, to all come together and really put out that same consistent messaging,” Dewey said.

“We're not arresting individuals, that's great. But also, what services are available? [What] do they need?”

Kansas was one of the last states to legalize fentanyl test strips last year.

Wyoming is now the only state in the nation to not have a Good Samaritan overdose law.

For local treatment and substance use resources and information, visit kmuw.org/substanceuse.

Copyright 2024 KMUW | NPR for Wichita

Kylie Cameron, a Kansas native, is a News Lab intern at KMUW. A political science and journalism major, she also serves as the editor in chief for The Sunflower, Wichita State’s student newspaper.