Death by Drug War


Washington State has a law allowing prosecutors to impose a special homicide charge on people who supply drugs to overdose victims. The problem is that the law itself may be causing more overdose deaths.

The state of Washington's position is clear: If someone calls 911 when a friend is overdosing, not only does the witness risk charges for possessing or selling drugs (which 911 callers in these situations have feared since the passage of the Controlled Substances Act), but he or she could be charged with homicide, too. The end result? Overdose victims—who might survive with prompt medical care—may be abandoned and left to die.

"It goes in the wrong direction and cuts against overdose prevention, overdose reporting, and taking someone to the hospital," says defense attorney Hiatt. "If I give you the drugs, I'll be less likely to take you to the hospital."

When you think about how the law would be applied, it's far more likely to catch teens and college kids who share illicit drugs with friends making just such a decision than it is to catch any major drug dealer. I doubt many people overdose with their dealers, or leave behind strong evidence of where they obtained their drugs. But it's pretty likely that young people would share drugs among friends, then worry about what to do when one of them ingests too much. This law will make them less likely to get emergency medical care. Which means it's likely to cause more deaths than it prevents.