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Proposed bill would force overdose survivors to get treatment

House Bill 1501 would require people who overdose to seek treatment within 30 days. (Pennsylvania General Assembly)

JOHNSTOWN — A bill proposed in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives would force overdose survivors to seek addiction treatment or face the loss of their immunity to prosecution.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Frank Burns, of Cambria, would change the current Pennsylvania Good Samaritan law, which generally shields people who overdose from being charged with anything.

"We simply can't allow them to continue to overdose, go back on the street and overdose again," Burns said.

That's a view shared by Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan.

"I think at the point where you overdose and you've almost lost your life, that you are a risk to yourself and to others," Callihan said.

She said the good Samaritan law, which she supports in general, can cause problems for law enforcement, especially when they see the same people overdose over and over.

"That's frustrating because we don't have any teeth to force that person into treatment," she said.

That treatment often happens at places like Twin Lakes Center in Somerset, where certified recovery specialist Justyn Patton works.

Patton said the most important thing is that people get into treatment.

"No matter how you got here, whether it was because a law was passed or you just hit rock bottom ... we try not to judge," Patton said.

One of Patton's concerns is that, with all the new people seeking help, treatment centers could run out of beds, particular beds for detoxing.

Another concern — who will pay for the treatment?

"Well, we can't ask the taxpayers to foot the bill, because they didn't create the problem," Rep. Burns said.

Instead, Burns said he has reached out to the Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Gov. Tom Wolf about suing pharmaceutical companies for the funds.

"They're the ones who misled the public on truly how addictive these drugs are," Burns said.

Wolf's office sent 6 News a statement, saying in part that Wolf supports efforts to find "more tools to get their love(d) ones into the treatment they desperately need," but that Wolf is still reviewing this specific bill.

Joe Grace, a spokesman for Attorney General Shapiro, told 6 News Wednesday evening that they plan to "review the legislation carefully."

"The Office of the Attorney General strongly supports the need for more treatment options for people who are addicted to drugs," a statement from the office added.

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This article was updated to include a statement from the attorney general's office.

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