As more painkiller addicts are turning to heroin due to the crackdown on prescription drugs, a growing number of law enforcement agencies are turning to rarely used drug laws to prosecute drug dealers for their role in causing overdose deaths, according to this article in the Associated Press.
Prosecutors in New Jersey, for example, are using the state’s “strict liability for drug death” statute, a first-degree crime that holds dealers and producers responsible for a user’s death and has a 20-year maximum sentence, the article says. They are also changing the way they investigate overdoses, which were once looked upon as accidents, immediately sending detectives to the scene of an overdose, and instructing paramedics to treat overdoses like crimes. In addition, coroners are being asked to order autopsies and preserve forensic evidence because proving that a death was caused solely by heroin can be difficult when other substances are present in a person’s system, the article says.
The number of people nationwide who have used heroin in the past year rose by 66% between 2007 and 2011, while the number of people who died of overdoses and had heroin present in their system jumped 55% from 2000 to 2010, the article notes, citing federal data.
Though responsibility for drug overdose deaths is often difficult to prove, 17 state legislatures have adopted the Model Drug Dealer Liability Act, which provides a means for parents and others to obtain monetary damages from drug dealers for the injuries caused by drugs to their families and communities. Under its “market liability” provisions, the DDLA provides for civil liability for any drug dealer in a community for the injuries to others by drug users of the same type of drug, during the time period the dealer was dealing in the same community.