By RAY WILBUR
Capital News Service
LANSING — Two pills and a night in December of 2014 changed the lives of one Michigan family and in turn spawned an effort to help families affected by drug overdose deaths across the state.
Mason Mizwicki, 16, of Watervliet, died of a methadone overdose on New Year’s Day of 2015 after a party with friends. Mizwicki took two methadone pills that had been provided by a woman hosting the party.
Methadone is an opioid medication administered to reduce withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to heroin.
When he began having a seizure, his friends did nothing. They were too afraid to call the police for fear of criminal charges.
Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign into law a bill that would address tragic scenarios like Mizwicki’s by exempting people who call law enforcement agencies for help in an overdose situation from facing criminal charges.
The bill is the product of roughly a year of bipartisan work on the part of lawmakers and Mason’s mother, Lori Mizwicki, who has testified in committee hearings on behalf of her son and has advocated for efforts to reduce overdose deaths in Michigan.
Mizwicki said she struggled to figure out what to do about her son’s death for months, until she met with Rep. Al Pscholka, a Republican from Stevensville.
In conjunction with Pscholka, Mizwicki worked to pass the good Samaritan bill in December 2015. The bill exempted people under the age of 21 from facing charges if they call for help in a situation in which someone is overdosing on prescription drugs.
The idea f came from a recommendation from Snyder’s Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force, which was created to combat the state’s opioid and drug epidemic.
According to a 2014 report from the Department of Community Health, unintentional fatal drug poisonings have increased four-fold since 1999. In the years between 2009 and 2012, 4,772 people died of overdoses.
But Mizwicki and lawmakers didn’t stop there. With help from Rep. Sam Singh, a Democrat from East Lansing, the bill was expanded to cover all ages and all drugs.
“We knew at the time we needed to go further than the under-21 rule and that took some time just to get law enforcement comfortable,” Pscholka said. “We came back and made the bill cover all drugs and all ages as long as it’s a medical emergency.”
Pscholka said some law enforcement officials were hesitant about the possibility of drug dealers trying to use the bill as a way to evade dealing charges. To combat that, the bill only exempts people in a medical emergency and only people who possess or use of drugs. If other crimes such as intent to sell or rape are observed, the bill is not relevant.
“This bill is a step in the right direction,” said Matt Williams, a State Police sergeant and legislative liaison. “We want people to be able to call for help, that’s why we’re here.”
Mizwicki said the bill is helpful, but it’s not as important as educating people about its purpose and what they can do if they find themselves in a situation like her son’s.
Since her son’s death, Mizwicki has travelled around the state, speaking with elementary, middle and high school students to provide information about her son and the good Samaritan bill.
“So I helped pass a bill,” Mizwicki said. “Now it’s getting the word out about what this bill means and what it can do.”
By RAY WILBUR