Liana Bernard first shared the story of her daughter Kristen’s opioid overdose in 2016.
“They had gone over to what’s known as a drug house here in town, and when I got to work Friday, an officer came to my work and let me know she had been found dead at that house full of people,” Bernard said in 2016.
Bernard continues to live with the fact that nobody called 911.
“So instead, while she’s dying, they are clearing the house of drugs; one is calling his mom. They’re calling everybody except 911. So even when a mother is called, she’s scared for her son, so she doesn’t call 911 either. She goes to the home,” Bernard said.
Bernard says their main concern was clearing out any evidence to avoid going to jail.
“The paraphernalia; the drugs; everything that belonged to my daughter’s gone and meanwhile, she is laying there turning purple; dying,” Bernard said.
Bernard has played out the “what-ifs” over and over again in her mind.
Angela Kennecke: In a case like this, we all know seconds count.
Bernard: Yeah, they do count; especially if I’d been called. The house is only–and I’ve timed it–I’ve drove the route, a few times–and I could have been there in two minutes.
Cases like Kristen Bernard’s prompted the South Dakota legislature to invoke a new law granting immunity from arrest and prosecution for those calling for help in a drug-related overdose.
“The law is there to encourage people not to worry about if there are illegal narcotics on scene or if they were using with them and to help them make that right decision that’s important to keep that one person alive,” Capt. Rich Miller of the Sioux Falls Police Department said.
“Life comes before prosecution. We want to save as many lives as we can, no matter what they’re doing,” Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Aaron McGowan said.
But prosecutors don’t think the message is getting out.
“We’re still seeing the fatalities. We’ve had cases where somebody did the right thing and we utilized this law to dismiss possession charges against an otherwise criminal defendant. It’s been used in the field. But I don’t know how much practical affect it’s having on those high stress situations with people making very bad decisions on a horrible drug,” McGowan said.
Bernard hopes that as more drug users become aware of the law, they’ll do the right thing if someone is dying in their midst.
“She’s not the only one that has died as a result of somebody not calling 911 out of fear. They are not there to arrest you. They’re there to save a life and it’s your responsibility to call them to save that life. If you don’t, I consider it the same as murder. You are literally letting another human being die,” Bernard said.
Immunity is only granted for possession or ingestion and can be granted only one time. But there is no statewide system for tracking when the law is used.
It does not apply to those dealing drugs.
Overdoses are becoming a bigger problem all the time. The number of suspected opioid overdoses has jumped 727 percent in three years in South Dakota from just 18 in 2015 to 149 this year so far.