Sunday, February 12, 2012

Roosevelt University researcher and her students worked behind scenes for passage of new state law

Kathleen Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, predicted that deaths from drug overdoses in Illinois will decline thanks to a new state law, the Emergency Medical Services Access Act, which was recently signed by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

“The number one reason why folks don’t call 911 is the fear of police and prosecution,” said Kane-Willis, who has been advocating with grassroots organizers since 2010 for bi-partisan passage of the new law, which gives limited immunity from prosecution to those who call 911 or who seek medical treatment in a drug overdose situation.

With its passage, Illinois becomes the fifth state in the nation (New Mexico, Washington, Connecticut and New York have approved similar legislation) to grant limited immunity to drug users who are overdosing and to those who reach out on behalf of a drug user in an overdose situation. The law protects individuals from prosecution when small amounts of most illegal substances are involved. It does not protect drug sellers or traffickers.

In Illinois, the grassroots coalition that worked for passage of the new law in 2010 and 2011 included parents who lost children to overdose, researchers, Roosevelt University students in Kane-Willis’ Drugs, Alcohol and Society class, Students for Sensible Drug Policy in Illinois and drug-treatment providers.

“We did background research and went down to Springfield to advocate for the new law,” said Clay Wallace, a Roosevelt graduate sociology major (also pictured) who was the teaching assistant for Drugs and Society, a transformational learning class. Wallace, a resident of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, enlisted the support of his state representative, Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie, who co-sponsored the Emergency Medical Services Access Act.

“This was democracy in the making, and it showed me that lawmakers are willing to look at things on a practical level.  The bottom line is no one wants people to die from a drug overdose and our lawmakers understood that,” he said.

“I hope this new law will someday be remembered as the first in a series of policy reforms that helped lead to a substantial reduction in the lives lost due to substance abuse,” said retired Chicago Police Captain John Roberts, a resident of Homer Glen in Will County, whose 19-year-old son died of a heroin overdose. Roberts is the founder of the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization (HERO) and a member of the broad-based coalition that worked behind the scenes for passage of the new law.

The bill’s sponsor in the Illinois House, Representative Kelly Cassidy said “Simply put, this bill will save lives.  I am thankful to the advocates who worked so hard for so many years to pass this bill.  I am particularly grateful to the parents who shared the stories of their tragic losses to raise awareness and hopefully prevent others from enduring what they have."

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