Recently in the US we have experienced a very steady volume of drug overdose deaths, most of which relate to opioids. Opioids are found in the form of the illicit drug heroin, which is typically administered intravenously, and also in pain medications that are prescribed by a physician such as oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has classified this problem as an epidemic, as drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the US. Additionally, approximately 80% of new heroin users began by initially abusing prescription pain medication.
The ASAM estimates that over of 250 million prescriptions for opioids are written annually. As the problem with abuse and addiction to the medications has developed, there have been many efforts to manage the problem including:
- Changing the composition of many prescription opioids that were in a traditional tablet form to forms which decrease the ease of abuse. One example is that abusers were crushing the tablets into a powder and ingesting through intranasal means. This is particularly dangerous in products that were designed in an extended time-release pill when taken orally. When crushed, the full strength of the extended dosage is recognized immediately.
- Insuring pharmacies are part of a connected network database that cross-references patients and their medications to prevent people from going to multiple doctors to obtain additional prescriptions.
- Launching educational initiatives for physicians, as well as identifying doctors who are “over-prescribing”.
- Implementing and expanding drug court programs and diversionary treatment options.
One increasing trend among law enforcement has been when an overdose death occurs; they begin to investigate to how the deceased obtained the drug. Often the drug was provided or sold through a drug dealer or acquaintance. In addition to distribution charges, the provider can be charged as directly or indirectly responsible for the death by adding a tough felony charge such as involuntary manslaughter to the indictment. At a July 2016 sentencing in Maryland's Worcester County Court, a man was found guilty of narcotics distribution & involuntary manslaughter and given a 10-year prison sentence.
Washington State Law & Cases
In WA, the violation of controlled substances homicide is employed in many overdose cases and is a Class B felony carrying a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
- In a 2015 case of Controlled Substances Homicide (CSH) in the Skagit County Court in Mount Vernon, a sentence of five years was handed down resulting from a heroin death.
- In February 2016, a user died after an injection of methamphetamine in Bremerton. CSH charges were issued in May 2016, and the defendant is awaiting trial.
With the opioid epidemic increasingly taking lives, anger has surfaced, calling for more accountability for those facilitating these tragedies. There is opposition from groups including The Drug Policy Alliance, who believes that prosecuting in this manner will result in more deaths from overdoses that could have been prevented with medical attention. They feel these laws discourage those present during an overdose from contacting 911 due to fear of prosecution for a homicide. In many cases, medical staff can arrive and administer naloxone, an overdose reversal drug.
If you or a loved one has been charged with controlled substances homicide, contact the experts at The Law Office of Steve Karimi today at 206-621-8777 for a consultation. We will ensure your legal rights are properly defended!