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updated: 10/27/2011 6:24 PM

Legislation granting limited immunity in drug ODs passes

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By Kerry Lester

Legislation that provides drug overdose victims and those seeking help immunity from prosecution has passed the General Assembly and is headed to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk.

State Rep. Patti Bellock, of Hinsdale, a co-sponsor, says its effects will be particularly felt in the suburbs, which she called the "heroin capital of the U.S." during a speech on the House floor Thursday.

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Bellock said she first became aware of the issue at a suburban event where she was seated next to an adolescent psychologist who pleaded with her to "do something about the heroin problem." Shortly after that, she said, she saw a close friend's son suffer from heroin addiction.

"We need to address it. We need to raise awareness of it," she said.

The legislation, which passed out of the Senate unanimously in the spring and the House by a 61-53 vote, would grant limited immunity to anyone who calls 911 to report a drug overdose and has less than a specified amount of drugs in their possession. The amounts differ according to the drug in question.

According to the law, the immunity would not be extended if law enforcement officials are investigating a person because of information obtained before the 911 call.

In her push for a change in the law, Bellock referenced a recently published study of suburban students, parents and heroin users that concluded that most people have little knowledge about heroin when they first use it, and one-third of those surveyed started using it after being addicted to or misusing prescription pain pills.

Dennis Reboletti, however, an Elmhurst Republican, believes the legislation doesn't go far enough in terms of mandating treatment.

"The bill does nothing with respect to the underlying problem. After a person leaves from the hospital they're going to end up going back into the addiction and stealing money from family, from friends, from the neighborhood."

Reboletti, a former prosecutor, said he also believes the legislation could make police investigations more difficult.

Quinn has 60 days to approve or veto the legislation before it automatically becomes law.

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