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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – St. Louis Alderwoman Cara Spencer introduced Friday groundbreaking legislation to the Board of Aldermen designed to help reduce the skyrocketing number of drug overdose deaths in the City of St. Louis.

Drug overdoses are far too common in the city and often occur in the presence of other drug users who fail to call for help for fear of arrest.

Spencer’s “Overdose Prevention Ordinance” would allow someone to call for help during a medical emergency drug overdose situation without fear of being prosecuted for the drugs present at the time of the emergency. The ordinance would provide immunity from drug possession charges only during the emergency.

“While we desperately need to curb the broader problems being caused by heroin and prescription drug abuse, we can begin saving lives right now by breaking down this barrier to calling for help,” Spencer said. “I think this is critical legislation, and I expect to get broad support.”

It hits home for Spencer, who has lost a cousin to overdose.

“I can’t help but wonder who might have been saved if help had arrived sooner,” she said.

The goal of this ordinance is to empower witnesses to save someone’s life without risking their own freedom.

“There is nothing more important than saving a human life,” said St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer M. Joyce. “We shouldn’t ask someone to make the horrible choice of saving a human life or getting a drug possession charge. If we can save lives, and I believe we can, we have a moral obligation to do it.”

The statistics are alarming. Last year, 117 people died in the City of St. Louis alone from accidental opiate overdoses. Heroin is the main culprit. The deaths are scattered across all races, genders, age groups, and areas of the city, according to statistics from the medical examiner.

The immunity would only apply to charges related to drug use that occurred at the time a call for help was made. Outstanding warrants and illegal firearms possession, among other things, would not be overlooked by responding law enforcement.

The ordinance would also require responding officers to offer information and help to others present with apparent substance abuse problems.

After the meeting Friday, the ordinance was sent to committee where, if approved, would move on to a vote of the entire board. Once it’s passed, it would take effect immediately.