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INTERACTIVE: Groups split over proposed overdose immunity bill

Groups, including former drug users, are split over a Senate bill that would give immunity to both someone reporting or experiencing an overdose. In a recent unanimous vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 667, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. The bill expands on the current protection offered only to the person reporting the overdose, who can be charged but has an affirmative defense which leads to dropped or reduced charges when proven they reported an overdose.

Capital News Service

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By Joseph Whitney Smith

Groups, including former drug users, are split over a Senate bill that would give immunity to both someone reporting or experiencing an overdose.

In a recent unanimous vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 667, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax. The bill expands on the current protection offered only to the person reporting the overdose, who can be charged with a crime but has an affirmative defense, which leads to dropped or reduced charges when proven they reported an overdose.

This new bill would offer immunity to both the person reporting the overdose and experiencing the overdose, meaning no charges would be filed. The bill protects individuals from arrest or prosecution for the unlawful purchase, possession or consumption of alcohol, controlled substances, marijuana or having drug paraphernalia.

The legislation also states that no officers acting in good faith will be found liable for false arrest if it is later determined the individual arrested was immune from prosecution because they overdosed or reported an overdose.

“In Virginia, friends often do not call for help for fear of being arrested,” Boysko said at the committee hearing for the bill.

Boysko told Senate members that every second matters in an overdose and that data show bystanders are three times more likely to call 911 when there is a safe reporting law such as her proposed bill. She also said that the state needs to stop criminalizing individuals that are attempting to seek urgent help for themselves or others.

“Virginia’s death toll from opioid overdoses continues to rise despite state and local government spending millions of dollars to make naloxone available,” Boysko said. “More than 1,500 died just in 2019 in Virginia from drug overdoses.”

According to the Virginia Department of Health, overdose is the leading cause of unnatural death in the state since 2013, followed by motor vehicle related and gun deaths.

“With the new law we’re looking at a healthcare solution for a healthcare crisis,” said Nathan Mitchell, who said he was previously addicted to drugs. Mitchell now serves as the community outreach and advocacy coordinator at the McShin Foundation. Mitchell said the proposed bill does not provide protection for crimes such as distribution or a firearm at the scene of the overdose, only drug and paraphernalia possession.

According to Mitchell, drug incarceration is inconsistent in the commonwealth. He said after his first drug-related arrest he wasn’t introduced to a recovery program. But, after his second arrest, he received treatment through the help of the McShin Foundation. He said that inconsistency is an example that not all individuals who overdose will have access to the same treatment.

Drug courts are specialized courts where individuals plead guilty and agree to complete the drug court program. Not every locality in the commonwealth has a drug court, though state law authorizes any locality to establish one with the support of existing and available local, state and federal resources.

Mitchell said that individuals may not report an overdose to help protect the individual overdosing from being charged with a crime. He said that’s why a bill granting immunity to both parties is important.

John Shinholser, president and co-founder of the McShin Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on recovery education and recovery, testified in favor of Boysko’s bill.

“This is evidence-based, data-driven proof that this bill will reduce deaths in Virginia during this crisis,” Shinholser said.

Goochland County resident Micheal McDermott spoke in opposition of Boysko’s bill during the Senate committee meeting. McDermott said he’s been in recovery from substance abuse disorder for over 28 years. The bill has good intentions but immunity should only be given to the person reporting, not overdosing, McDermott said.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said.

There’s no guarantee that an overdose victim treated by paramedics will find recovery, McDermott said. If the person overdosing is on probation, they should receive a probation violation, and perhaps get the needed court-mandated treatment.

Westmoreland County Commonwealth’s Attorney Julia Sichol spoke last month at a House subcommittee in opposition to similar legislation that failed to advance, on behalf of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys. Sichol said she thinks a bill offering immunity “can also cause harm to lives” because it keeps the person overdosing from being charged with a crime and could possibly prevent them from receiving court-mandated treatment.

“Drug treatment is extremely expensive and sometimes the only way to get the treatment for the individuals is through the court system,” Sichol said. “If you take away the ability for individuals to be charged who have overdosed they are not eligible to participate in drug treatment program, they are not eligible to go through the court system under mandated treatment.”

On Friday, SB 667 was assigned to a House subcommittee.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Use Exact Change or E-Zpass on Powhite Parkway Starting Today

There will be no manned booths taking money on Powhite for the foreseeable future.

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The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has temporarily suspended cash exchange tolls on Powhite Parkway extension and the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge. This means there won’t be someone to take your money so either have exact change, pay too much, or use an E-Zpass. No mention of any changes to Nickel aka Boulevard Bridge.

As of April 1, if you make an unpaid trip on a Virginia toll facility, you may be able to pay that toll through the “missed-a-toll” process before receiving a notice/invoice. The “missed-a-toll” payment process must take place within six days of the unpaid toll trip.

The standard administration fee associated with “missed-a-toll” has been suspended temporarily.

Exact change can still be dropped into the coin basket at the Powhite Parkway Extension.

E-ZPass is now the most convenient and safest way to pay tolls.

For more information or to order your own E-ZPass, click here.

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Friday Cheers cancels, postpones various concerts amid COVID-19

Venture Richmond Events staff is working to reschedule Friday Cheers’ early June artist performances, and remain cautiously optimistic about performances later in June.

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Friday Cheers fans are devoted and unwavering, but in these times we must all be mindful that the COVID-19 virus has dramatically changed our daily social interactions and we must all follow the directives of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home executive order through June 10.

The governor’s order prohibits all public and private in-person gatherings of more than 10 individuals.

With these guidelines, and for the safety of both our patrons and staff, we have made the following changes to the May Friday Cheers schedule:

  • Jade Bird with Sweet Potatoes that was previously scheduled for Friday, May 1, 2020 is cancelled.
  • Billy Strings with Andrew Alli and Josh Small is rescheduled for Wednesday, August 26, 2020.
  • RVA Music Night – Palm Palm is rescheduled for Friday, May 21, 2021.
  • Jay Som with Angelica Garcia – We are working to reschedule this show for Friday Cheers 2021 and will provide details when finalized.

Venture Richmond Events staff is working to reschedule Friday Cheers’ early June artist performances, and remain cautiously optimistic about performances later in June.

2020 Friday Cheers Season Pass holders can still use their pass for the remaining June Friday Cheers events and for the rescheduled Billy Strings event on August 26, 2020.

In addition, as a thank you for your understanding during this difficult time, 2020 Season Pass holders will receive a 50% discount off a 2021 Friday Cheers Season Pass! TicketsToBuy.com will email current Season Pass holders with information about the discount which can be used when purchasing a 2021 Season Pass.

Those who have purchased a ticket online for any one of these May events may request a refund by emailing [email protected]com beginning Friday, April 3, 2020.

Venture Richmond Events, LLC and its staff work to produce an excellent experience for you on Brown’s Island, but we take the safety and health of our guests, staff, and community very seriously, and appreciate your continued support moving forward.

At this time, all other events produced by Venture Richmond Events, LLC, including the June Friday Cheers events, remain scheduled as planned, but are subject to change. Again, thank you for your continued support of Friday Cheers.

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Sponsored by: CoStar, Dominion Green Power,  Delta Hotels by MarriottDrive Shack103.7 PlayRichmond.comStyle Weekly NBC12CW Richmond and Easley Made Catering.

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Governor Ralph Northam issues statewide “Stay at Home” order

Governor Ralph Northam today issued a statewide Stay at Home order to protect the health and safety of Virginians and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. The order takes effect immediately and will remain in place until June 10, 2020, unless amended or rescinded by a further executive order.

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Governor Ralph Northam today issued a statewide Stay at Home order to protect the health and safety of Virginians and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. The order takes effect immediately and will remain in place until June 10, 2020, unless amended or rescinded by a further executive order.

The order directs all Virginians to stay home except in extremely limited circumstances. Individuals may leave their residence for allowable travel, including to seek medical attention, work, care for family or household members, obtain goods and services like groceries, prescriptions, and others as outlined in Executive Order Fifty-Three, and engage in outdoor activity with strict social distancing requirements.

The executive order also directs all Virginia institutions of higher education to stop in-person classes and instruction. Private campgrounds must close for short-term stays, and beaches will be closed statewide except for fishing and exercise.

“We are in a public health crisis, and we need everyone to take this seriously and act responsibly,” said Governor Northam. “Our message to Virginians is clear: stay home. We know this virus spreads primarily through human-to-human contact, and that’s why it’s so important that people follow this order and practice social distancing. I’m deeply grateful to everyone for their cooperation during this unprecedented and difficult time.”

The full text of Executive Order Fifty-Five can be found here.

There is no enforcement clause; the largest tangible change from last week’s directive to stay at home is the closure of beaches and bodies of water to swimming. Fishing is permissible.

Last week, Governor Northam issued Executive Order Fifty-Three closing certain non-essential businesses, prohibiting public gatherings of more than 10 people, and directing all K-12 schools to remain closed for the rest of the academic year. A Frequently Asked Questions guide about Executive Order Fifty-Three can be found here.

For the latest information about the COVID-19 outbreak, visit virginia.gov/coronavirus or CDC.gov/coronavirus.

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