Capital News Service
Legislation that would protect Virginians reporting drug overdoses was introduced earlier this month after years of lobbying by a VCU student organization, but the bill will have to wait until the 2015 General Assembly session to be heard.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy was the VCU group instrumental in helping introduce HB 557, which sought to provide limited legal amnesty to anyone reporting a drug overdose.
The bill aimed to protect anyone experiencing or witnessing a drug overdose, whether from a controlled substance or synthetic cannabinoid, according to VCU SSDP co-president and treasurer Rose Bono.
“According to the office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, hundreds of people die every year from unintentional drug overdose,” Bono said. “This is an important issue to the public health of Virginia.”
The bill also provided protections for minors suffering from an alcohol-related overdose, addressing an issue common to colleges and universities throughout the country.
“We’ve met parents and relatives of those who have died of overdose,” said delegate Betsy Carr, (D-Richmond, the bill’s chief patron. “This (bill) is an attempt to save those lives.”
The bill was heard in the Courts of Justice subcommittee earlier this month. After deliberation, the subcommittee recommended “laying it on the table,” essentially ending discussion on the bill during this session of the General Assembly, according to VCU SSDP president Jurriaan van den Hurk.
Bono and van den Hurk said the VCU group plans to continue addressing the issue in the future.
Bono said the drafting of this legislation has been in the works over the course of several years with help from former organization leaders and the national SSDP office. After much lobbying and organizing, Carr adopted the issue by becoming chief patron of the bill.
The national SSDP office encourages its local chapters to lobby for regulations in their respective universities that would protect students experiencing overdoses. Because VCU falls under the jurisdiction of the city of Richmond, university officials told members of the SSDP they would have to appeal to city legislators to adopt a law for the commonwealth, Bono said.
During the subcommittee meeting, delegate Jackson Miller, (R-Manassas) motioned to table the bill, citing unintended consequences the bill could cause, such as providing amnesty to drug dealers selling far more harmful adulterated drugs.
“If someone was selling a bad batch of heroin and making people sick, and the police would show up at an overdose caused by that, the (police) wouldn’t be able to do anything about it,” van den Hurk said “They said the bill wasn’t written well enough to account for those loose ends.”
Van den Hurk said the organization isn’t giving up on the issue. They will wait to see which members will take up leadership roles and shape a new policy to address the issue after he and Bono graduate in May.