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Ohio moves toward prosecuting drug dealers for overdoses

In Ohio, the police are now taking a dual-pronged approach to the epidemic of opiate overdoses within the state: When someone suffers an overdose, they naturally try to treat the overdose victim. If the victim survives, he or she is pushed toward treatment. However, the state is also now tracking down the providers of the drugs used in the overdose with an eye towards prosecution.

This is a marked change from the past where law-enforcement typically didn't investigate accidental overdose deaths as crimes.

What does that mean for those that sell, share or even give drugs to someone else who overdoses? It depends on what ultimately happens to the overdose victim.

For example, the prosecutor of one Ohio county has charged a dozen people with involuntary manslaughter in separate incidents for providing someone with the drugs that led to that person's fatal overdose. In cases where the defendant sold the overdose victim the drugs, the involuntary manslaughter charge is in addition to charges of drug trafficking and corrupting another with drugs, each of which has their own penalties.

Corrupting another with drugs is a charge also being leveled against those who provided drugs to victims who survive their overdose. Depending on the individual circumstances of the case, like the location of the incident and the ages of those involved, that charge can range from a low, fourth-degree felony to a high, first-degree felony. All of them, however, have mandatory prison terms.

The county may have decided to take this tactic in part because it has only had moderate success with treatment programs. Only about 65 percent of overdose survivors agree to start treatment. However, only one out of two survivors who initially agree to treatment actually ever come to their first appointment.

Now that overdoses in Ohio are no longer being seen as essentially self-inflicted or accidental, it would be wise to remember that even deciding to share drugs at a party with a friend could result in serious charges if the other person overdoses. If you find yourself being questioned in relationship to someone's drug overdose, invoke your right to remain silent and contact a drug defense attorney immediately for help.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, "Overdoses in Franklin County are focus of both prosecution and treatment," John Futty, April 12, 2017

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