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"Dealers charged with homicide curb drug use and overdose deaths"

WHY?

 

People sharing drugs that led to an overdose are arrested and charged with "drug-induced homicide" or manslaughter, triggering stiff penalties and mandatory minimums. Harsh penalties and drug imprisonment rates do not correlate with reduced drug use and overdose fatalities. There is no evidence that harsh punishments and homicide prosecutions are an effective tool in the opioid crisis. But there is evidence that drug-induced homicide prosecutions instill fear in drug users. 

The Tired Narrative: 

"Drug-induced homicide" occurs when someone distributes a drug that results in a fatal overdose. The person who distributed the drug to the overdose victim will be charged, depending on the state, with manslaughter or homicide.

Prosecutors and district attorneys are often quoted in news articles about drug-induced homicide, and claim to be holding "dealers accountable." Without evidence, law enforcement officials suggest these prosecutions prevent people from using and selling drugs to one another. Harsh criminal penalties stemming from drug-induced homicide prosecutions send a "strong message" to drug dealers and users.

Words like "dealing death" and "pushing poison" are used in the context of describing so-called dealers. 

The Informed Narrative: 

The first "drug-induced homicide" laws were passed in the 1980s to enhance the sentences of "kingpins"and major traffickers selling cocaine. These statutes mostly lied dormant until the opioid overdose crisis became a national emergency. Prosecutors have begun deploying drug-induced homicide laws to target friends, family members, and loved ones of overdose victims. 

Research shows that these laws have had a "chilling effect" on drug users who witness overdoses. The fear of legal consequences prevents witnesses from calling for help. Instead of sending a "strong message" to dealers, these laws deter help-seeking behavior from bystanders.

 

Journalists should ask law enforcement officials to back-up their claims that these prosecutions are an effective overdose prevention strategy.  

Connect with Expert Sources:

Leo Beletsky, Associate Professor, Northeastern University

Lindsay LaSalle, Attorney, Drug Policy Alliance 

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