An Overdose Death Is Not Murder: Why Drug-Induced Homicide Laws Are Counterproductive and Inhumane

Press Release November 3, 2017
Media Contact

Tony Newman ([email protected]) 646-335-5384
Lindsay LaSalle ([email protected]) 510-847-8064

This Tuesday, the Drug Policy Alliance is releasing a major new report, An Overdose Death Is Not Murder: Why Drug-Induced Homicide Laws Are Counterproductive and Inhumane.

This first-of-its-kind publication examines one strategy that the law enforcement community and some elected officials are embracing in response to the overdose crisis—drug-induced homicide—which the evidence suggests is intensifying, rather than helping, the problem.

The Drug Policy Alliance is also releasing two powerful video profiles of people who are currently serving drug-induced homicide sentences.

Drug-induced homicide refers to the crime of selling or sharing drugs that result in a death.  Twenty states have specific drug-induced homicide laws, while many others charge the crime under generic murder or manslaughter laws.  Though relatively unused since they were introduced in the 1980s, prosecutors are reinvigorating the laws with a rash of drug-induced homicide prosecutions in response to rapidly increasing rates of opioid overdose deaths.  While intended to reach large-scale “traffickers,” most prosecutions are against family, friends, or low-level sellers.

While the total number of drug-induced homicide prosecutions is unknown, new data collected by the Drug Policy Alliance shows that news articles about individuals charged with or prosecuted for drug-induced homicide have recently increased over 300%, from 363 in 2011 to 1,178 in 2016.  Since 2011, Midwestern states Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois and Minnesota have been the most aggressive in prosecuting drug-induced homicides, with northeastern states Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York and southern states Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee rapidly expanding their use of these laws.

This Tuesday, experts and people directly affected by drug-induced homicide laws will discuss the current landscape, the impact of drug-induced homicide enforcement, and why it is a misguided response to addressing addiction and overdose.

WHAT:     Press Teleconference         
WHEN:    Tuesday, November 7 at 1:00pm (ET) / 10:00am (PT)
HOW:        Contact Tony Newman for call-in information

Though prosecutors rely on the oft-cited, but totally unproven, deterrence rationale in support of their charging practices, there is no evidence that enforcement of drug-induced homicide reduces drug use or sales, or deadly overdoses.  Rather, the only behavior that is actually deterred is the seeking of life-saving medical assistance for fear of prosecution.  This is especially true because police and prosecutors are widely abusing their discretion in investigating and prosecuting drug-induced homicide cases, with the vast majority being sought against those best in a position to call for help—family, friends, acquaintances, and low-level sellers who are often supplying drugs to support their own drug dependence.

Increased criminalization of people who use and sell drugs only exacerbates the very problem prosecutors are supposedly trying to address.  It increases stigma, drives people away from needed care, and will likely result in the same racial disparities now synonymous with other drug war tactics.

While there is no evidence in support of the effectiveness of drug-induced homicide laws, there is abundant evidence in support of myriad health and harm reduction interventions that can better address the risks of problematic drug use.  These interventions, however, are often overlooked in favor of wasteful, punitive policies that will only make the problem worse.  We are in the midst of a drug war déjà vu.

For an embargoed copy of the report and videos, please e-mail Lindsay LaSalle (embargo will be lifted at 12:01am ET on Tuesday, 11/7).

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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