Drug overdose death rates in the United States have soared within the last decade, deeming the chronic consumption of drugs the leading cause of injury-related death in the nation. Solely in Washington, 1,094 people died from overdoses in 2015, transcending the number of deaths in prior years by hundreds of casualties, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Startled by the rising number of fatalities, legislators and advocacy groups have proactively shaped and proposed drug policy to combat this crisis, most of which that has been focused on the criminalization of opioid trafficking and sales rather than prevention and rehabilitation. Amid these counterproductive regulations, there has been a recent push to reinforce what critics call one of the most damaging relics of the infamous “war on drugs”: drug-induced homicides.
The policy, which has been enacted in Washington since 1987, has seldom been enforced. But as the need for an effective solution becomes more urgent, law enforcement agencies are now approaching overdose cases more aggressively. The overdose fatalities that were once labeled as an “accidental death” in police record books will now be seen as evidence of a homicide, and “professional” drug dealers will be targeted as suspects. As a result, medical emergencies previously left to paramedics are turning into full-fledged drug investigations conducted by special operations detectives. And overdose fatality cases that went untouched will be prioritized, all in an effort to prosecute drug dealers when the drugs they sell kills their consumers.
Prosecutors across the country have made strides to convict drug dealers in relation to overdose victims, pinning charges like negligent homicide, manslaughter and third-degree murder on defendants. Many state officials across the country have followed suit. A Pennsylvania coroner, for example, recently ruled approximately half of the heroin overdoses in the county as homicides. Critics of drug-induced homicide laws claim that sentencing drug dealers is not an effective way to curb the rates of overdoses. While those who agree with implementing the law claim that a drug should be considered a weapon in these cases.
The Drug Policy Alliance released a statement presenting facts pertaining to drug-induced homicide laws. The group concluded that there is no evidence that dictates that the criminalization of drug sales would achieve the agenda of reducing overdose fatalities. And that the implementation of these laws could actually prove to be more harmful than beneficial. The alliance concluded that eventually these laws would discourage people from alerting the authorities in the event of overdose in fear of getting prosecuted - which would undermine Good Samaritan laws. And in turn, homicide laws would punish users despite its aim to punish dealers. Especially since a whopping 70% of people incarcerated for drug trafficking in prisons sold drugs to support their own chronic drug use.
States such as New York, Ohio and Virginia are considering bills that would allow drug-induced homicides. In Washington, this legislation is already in place.
If you have been charged with a drug offense, you should consult with a well-versed attorney who commonly deals with these types of cases. A charge does not guarantee a conviction. Call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online for a consultation.