Opiate abuse, addiction, and overdose have become an epidemic throughout the United States. In a new move by many jurisdictions within the U.S., many courts have been charging drug dealers with manslaughter, reckless endangerment, as well as, drug delivery resulting in death. This is a beginning of the fight to combat the rising number of opiate overdoses across the country. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts are a few of the states where dealers have been found guilty as communities are making attempts te keep them off the street.
Ohio has become quite strict on its prosecution laws due to drug overdoses. Vance Norwood, 25, is one of Hamilton County’s 53 current cases of drug dealers facing serious charges. He has been charged with the involuntary manslaughter of a local homeless man, among other trafficking charges. The Hamilton County Task Force has been picking up daily cases in hopes of getting the dealers off the street to combat the opiate problem.
Kenneth Gentry, 33, also of Ohio, was the first dealer in Hamilton County to receive an involuntary manslaughter charge from selling Fentanyl-laced Heroin. This combination resulted in the death of a 38-year-old children’s hospital employee.
In Pennsylvania, Victor Virola, 23, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter. He sold pure Fentanyl to a customer who overdosed behind a convenience store in 2015. Virola misled this customer and passed the Fentanyl off as ordinary Heroin. Virola is just the first case in which a dealer has been charged with involuntary manslaughter due to a Fentanyl-related overdose in Lancaster County.
An involuntary manslaughter charge was brought against Dyarel Wojtowicz, 28, of Springfield, Massachusetts. His customer died of a Fentanyl and Heroin-related overdose. He pled not guilty to the charge, but District Attorney Anthony Gulluni had planned to send a message to drug dealers that when fatal overdoses occur, there will be serious consequences for the person who sold the drug.
Other states, including New Jersey and New Hampshire, have also begun charging dealers, in cases of overdose, in an attempt to combat the opiate problem. The New Jersey “strict liability for drug-induced death” law, enacted in the 1980s, has been used to convict drug dealers throughout New Jersey. The news is spreading of the law’s success. New Jersey has much stricter overdose laws than other states, however, it is difficult for other states to get the same conviction under their current laws.
New Hampshire’s attorney general also has plans to pursue murder charges from overdoses that result in death. He believes that overdoses should be treated as crime scenes, hoping that law enforcement will be able to follow paper trails to hold the dealers responsible for the death and help identify where the drugs are coming from.
Opponents of these moves believe that there will be fewer calls to emergency services if they are in the vicinity of someone who is overdosing. This would allow the person to die, rather than the dealer face manslaughter charges. However, with the Good Samaritan laws in place, as well as the deadly nature of opiates, particularly Fentanyl, District attorneys and attorney generals believe there are few other options.
Although it is difficult to do, with many district attorneys bringing these charges and the successful convictions they garner, this may become more commonplace in an attempt to fight the growing opiate abuse problem in the United States.
By Elizabeth Hageman
PennLive: Dealer Who Sold Fatal Batch of Fentanyl to User Will Serve up to 10 Years in Prison
CNN: N.J. Prosecutors Hit Dealers with Homicide Charges in Overdose Deaths
USA Today: Dealing Death? Accused Heroin Dealer Charged in 2 Overdoses
Western Mass News: Springfield Man Faces Additional Charges in Deadly Drug Overdose Case
Fosters: N.H. AG to Pursue Murder Charges for Drug Dealers
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