PA Officials Rapped on Overdose-Immunity Law

HARRISBURG, Pa. (CN) — Rushed to the hospital for a heroin overdose, a Pennsylvania woman claims in a federal complaint that officials flouted a year-old overdose-immunity law by trying to prosecute her.

Samantha Bailey claims filed her malicious-prosecution claim on June 26 in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, saying the abuses by the Tunkhannock Police Department and local prosecutors left charges hanging over her head for eight months last year.

As explained in the complaint, Pennsylvania enacted the Drug Overdose Response Immunity Act in fall 2014 to protect the rights of people who transport overdosing drug users for medical attention in fear for their safety.

Bailey says the law was in force for over a year when her mother took her to Tyler Memorial Hospital on Jan. 1, 2016, to keep her from dying of a heroin overdose.

Complying with a request from a nurse, according to the complaint, Bailey’s mother even brought the drugs she suspected her daughter had taken to the hospital so they could be tested and disposed of after ensuring that Bailey was getting the proper treatment.

Three days later, Bailey says an officer contacted her and her mother, telling them not to leave town and warning that even the mom could be charged for bringing the drugs to the hospital.

Bailey says she was charged with two counts of possession later that month and faced a series of burdensome bail conditions while her case wound its way through the courts.

Ignoring several letters from Bailey’s attorney about the application of the Drug Overdose Response Immunity Act, according to the complaint,  Wyoming County prosecutors waited until just two weeks before Bailey was set to go on trial in September to drop the charges.

In addition to overlooking her immunity, Bailey says the charges against her lacked probable cause since no one, let alone the police, actually saw her in possession of any heroin or drug paraphernalia.

During her eight months awaiting trial, Bailey faced restrictions on her travel and regular warrantless searches, as well as a full drug and alcohol evaluation at a local rehabilitation center.

Seeking punitive damages for violations of the Fourth and 14th amendments, Bailey says such actions are commonplace for officials in Tunkhannock and nearby Meshoppen, the jurisdiction where Bailey was said to have committed her crimes.

“There is a history of municipal employees such as police officers and the District Attorney’s Office mishandling whether to charge someone for a drug-related overdose or otherwise making a difficult decision about whether to charge someone when determining” whether that person is immune or whether probable cause supports such charges, according to the complaint.

Bailey’s allegations come at a time of increased public scrutiny about the drug prosecutions, as the opioid epidemic spreads through the country. An Ohio lawmaker recently came under fire for his suggestion that the state institute a three-strikes law so that emergency personnel would not have to respond to an overdose victim seeking help after their second OD.

Meshoppen Borough, Tunkhannock Township and the Tunkhannock Police Department have not returned voicemails or emails seeking comment on Bailey’s complaint.

A spokesman for Wyoming County District Attorney Jeffrey Mitchell declined to comment.

Bailey is represented in her lawsuit by Leonard Gryskewicz Jr. with Lampman Law in Wilkes-Barre.

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