It is a common sentiment among the general population that adults who choose to use drugs put themselves at risk for all possible side-effects, the most severe of which is an overdose. However, more and more, state lawmakers beg to differ.
For addicts and their loved ones, “drug-induced homicide” laws are the stuff of nightmares. Drug Policy Alliance explains drug-induced homicide statutes, as well as which states have taken a harsh stance against offenders.
According to the DPA, the term “drug-induced homicide” broadly refers to the crime of illegally manufacturing, delivering, selling or distributing a drug that causes the accidental overdose death of a user. If charged, a defendant usually faces a manslaughter or murder conviction.
Though this law has made a comeback in recent years, it is not new. In 1986, Congress passed the federal law as part of the Controlled Substances Act. As it was then, any person who is convicted of this crime faces a 20-years to life prison sentence.
To date, 20 states extend this federal law to individuals who deliver drugs to a person who then overdoses. This is the case even if the delivery person is an otherwise upstanding citizen. Massachusetts is not one of them.
That said, several states without specific statutes regarding drug-induced homicide still take a harsh stance against the crime, charging offenders with depraved heart, felony-murder or voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. For instance, between 2011 and 2016 Massachusetts prosecuted 116 individuals for the accidental overdose of another person.
Good Samaritan laws
Most states have “Good Samaritan” laws, which are in place to protect individuals who, in good faith, seek medical help for individuals who experience drug-related overdoses. According to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, Massachusetts’s Good Samaritan laws are less forgiving than most.
Per the alliance, the state provides immunity to individuals who, in good faith, seek medical assistance for someone who experiences an overdose — or who is the subject of a good faith attempt — from drug-related charges only. Many other states provide immunity from civil and criminal charges in such a situation. However, the state does agree to consider an attempt for a person to seek help as a mitigating factor in a criminal case.