The Missouri House on Monday passed a bill that would grant people immunity for carrying small amounts of drugs if they seek medical help for an overdose.
The proposal, which passed with a 134-21 vote, says that people can't be penalized for seeking medical assistance for an overdose if they possess small amounts of drugs or are in violation of probation, parole or a restraining order.
Rep. Steve Lynch, the bill's sponsor, said it will help combat opioid and heroin overdose deaths in the state.
He said he brought the bill forward after hearing "story after story" of people being left for dead after friends and acquaintances left the scene or dropped them near hospitals for fear of being arrested.
But opponents said the bill will do little to curb rising numbers of heroin and other drug overdose deaths in the state.
Rep. Justin Hill said that granting people immunity would compound the problem for users who need help.
"When you grant a user immunity, you are granting them another opportunity to use," he said.
The better solution would be to allow them to work through the system and get treatment through means such as drug court, he said.
At least 37 other states have enacted some form of immunity or Good Samaritan laws, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
Last year, the Missouri Legislature passed and Gov. Jay Nixon signed a law that gives legal protections for people who use the drug naloxone on someone who appears to be suffering from an overdose and calls emergency responders. Pharmacists are also able to sell naloxone.
At least 1,066 people, or 17.9 per 1,000 people, died of drug overdoses in Missouri in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.