Prosecutors Charging Drug Dealers in Heroin Overdose Deaths

A growing number of law enforcement officials around the country are prosecuting drug dealers for causing heroin overdose deaths, the Associated Press reports. Prosecutors are using laws that come with stiff penalties to target drug dealers and members of the drug supply chain, and connect them and the drugs they sell to deadly overdoses.

Many people who were addicted to prescription painkillers switched to heroin after drug companies made their products more difficult to crush and snort. Heroin is also much less expensive than pills such as oxycodone.

According to the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of people who were past-year heroin users in 2011 (620,000) was higher than the number in 2007 (373,000).

“We’re going to be ruthless,” Prosecutor Joseph Coronato of Ocean County, New Jersey, told the AP. “We’re looking for long-term prison sentences.” He and other prosecutors in New Jersey are using the state’s “strict liability for drug death” statute. The law holds dealers and producers responsible for a user’s death, and comes with a 20-year maximum sentence.

Until recently, overdoses were treated by law enforcement officials as accidents, the article notes. Now, when law enforcement hears about an overdose, detectives are immediately dispatched to the scene. Paramedics are instructed to treat overdoses as crimes, and coroners are requested to order autopsies and preserve evidence. It can be difficult to prove a death was caused only by heroin if a person also used other opioids, drugs or alcohol.

Kerry Harvey, the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Kentucky, has started prosecuting people who sold prescription opioids and heroin, under a federal law banning the distribution of illegal substances. The law allows for additional penalties if a death occurs.

Officials are also using cellphones to track text messages and calls related to drug purchases.

10 Responses to Prosecutors Charging Drug Dealers in Heroin Overdose Deaths

  1. vincent walker | August 12, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Could set an interesting precedent. Are bars and liquor stores next?

  2. Thankful Mother | August 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    I am so glad to hear this. Something has to be done. We are going to loose a lot of good kids that made a bad decision and can get out of the tangled web.

  3. Concerned Person | August 15, 2013 at 9:43 am

    What about doctors that are prescribing high doses or amounts and are not prescribing following guidelines? Or not using the tools to ensure their client are not “Pharming” and now the client has received multiple prescriptions, and at times insurance providers are paying for all prescriptions. Insurance companies should also be monitoring this issue. Why should they also not be held responsible. My fear is that this selective prosecution is directly targeted to minority populations that have been historically oppressed and systematically incarcerated. I agree that drug dealers should be held accountable for selling illegal drugs, but murder? And this “We Are Going to be Ruthless”, with pursuing longer prison sentences again iterates my concerns. Consider the politics behind this publicized demonstration of Prosecutors stance, this only occurred since the suburban and rural Caucasian population Heroin epidemic could no longer be kept under wraps. We all know that in order for this population to attain the drugs they must go into urban/inner city poverty areas to purchase. I do realize that prescriptions can be bought in their own communities, but after working in the addiction field, specifically with opiate addicted people most eventually revert to Heroin as it is cheaper and has a higher potency. Sadly we are going to again deal with this issue much like we dealt with the Crack epidemic of the 1980- 1990′s, increase incarceration rates to target a specific populations that is already historically oppressed and traumatized. Maybe we should look at increasing the prosecution of the bigger main pipeline drug dealer that is behind the small street dealers, the government knows who they are, but would rather take a stance that we are going to round up the masses of small time street dealers. Remember take one of these small timers off the street, the big distributing drug dealer only finds 2-3 new ones to replace him. Kinda like the government just wants to put the finger in the leaking dike, to see if it will hold back the rush of water that will destroy entire communities.

  4. Skip Sviokla MD ABAM | August 16, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    This article highlights an old problem with a new and deadly twist. Although, prescription pain killers surpassed heroin as the number one new cause of opioid addiction two years ago, the upsurge in heroin use causes new concerns as it now appears as a cheaper alternative to the more expensive pill habit. Many patients who tire of doctor shopping end up buying their pharmaceuticals from a street dealer. Instant “one stop shopping”. There are two special problems with this. First, heroin use gives even chronic pain pill users an incredible high when it is first used. I’ve been told that it’s “like Kissing God”. Dangerous stuff. Second, overdose is much more likely because of the varying strength of heroin that users buy. The number of pills used is easily calculated; the strength of “Brown Sugar” is not. Especially by the neophyte user. While many of my opioid patients are driven to treatment because the increasing cost of their pill addiction is breaking them financially, those who have started heroin are usually sicker, more desperate and come to treatment later. Of note, there are a few who recognize right away that the incredible increase in pleasure that heroin brings is “too good”. How does that recognition occur in some people and not in others? Would that we could determine the differences in people in their timing of seeking help. Just another way of asking why is one addict’s bottom so different from another’s.

  5. Skye Tikkanen | August 16, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    These prosecutions make it less likely that witnesses to an overdose will call 911. Many states still do not offer 911 Good Samaritan protections to those that call for medical assistance to save lives. Now they have the additional concern that if they do call 911 and their friend dies they will be charged with their death.

  6. Marcia Kirschbaum | August 17, 2013 at 1:18 am

    Absolutely Absurd. Certainly these people do not understand opiate addiction very well to blame the dealer, but beyond that, have these idiots not figured out by now that for every drug dealer we incarcerate, there are a hundred more waiting to take over his business? Between jails, prisons, probation, parole and drug related criminal records we already have 65 million and counting. When, for God’s sake will the morons that keep doing the same thing, over and over, expecting different results, admit that this is not working? Through Purdue in the slammer for decades if you want to go after the kingpin drug dealer.

  7. Joe Miller | August 19, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Escalating the so-called “war on drugs” is only going to make matters worse. I’ve yet to see “ruthlessness” to be an effective educational strategy or treatment approach to drug use and/or addiction.

  8. Joe Miller | August 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    I’m thinking we need to get some of these prosecutors into counseling.

  9. Chris keel | January 25, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    My daughter died from an overdose her drug dealer got charged with manslaughter! Rot in hell Doug Oliver and Debra Perkins for killing my baby!!

  10. Gary Langis | February 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Indict big pharma CEO’s they supply the drugs that account for 60% of fatal overdose in the US. Overdose is a public health concern not law enforcement.

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