Overdose deaths can lead to prosecution of fellow drug users

With the opioid addiction crisis claiming more lives in Illinois than ever before, law enforcement and prosecutors have started targeting bystanders of overdose deaths with criminal charges. Addicts often share drugs or supply each other with small amounts. When deadly overdoses occur, prosecutors are increasingly charging associates of the victim with delivering drugs that cause death. In another state, prosecutions of this nature went from 15 cases in 2013 to 205 cases in 2017.

In one case, a 39-year-old woman, addicted to heroin, supplied her addicted neighbor with a small amount of heroin that turned out to be laced with fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic that frequently kills people. Although she was not present when the neighbor died, local authorities have charged her with third-degree murder.

In the view of law enforcement, tough laws that hold suppliers accountable could frighten people away from selling drugs. Critics, like a representative from the Drug Policy Alliance, said that the tough stance discourages drug addicts from calling for medical help when a fellow user has an overdose. Cases of people being criminally charged after they tried to save an associate's life send the message that people should not call 911 because it invites prosecution.

Criminal charges of drug distribution or an intent to distribute could inflict lengthy prison sentences on people. A person accused of serious drug charges might benefit from consulting with a criminal defense attorney. An attorney may examine the evidence and offer an opinion about the strength of the prosecutor's case. This information could help a person choose between standing trial or accepting a plea bargain. When possible, an attorney may opt to challenge evidence and strive to get the charges reduced, which could result in a lighter sentence.

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