A Providence man has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge for selling the illicit drug fentanyl - a potent painkiller sometimes laced in heroin - that led to a woman’s overdose death. It’s the first time Rhode Island prosecutors have brought murder charges in connection with an overdose death. But the trend is taking hold nationwide.
More and more prosecutors across the nation are hoping the prospect of a 20 year prison sentence will be a deterrent to drug dealers. But according to Roger Williams University law school professor Andy Horwitz, mandatory minimum sentences don’t work.
“They’ve had very little impact on society in a way that’s positive, they’ve had a lot of impact in a way that’s negative," said Horwitz, "destroying lots of lives, marginalizing large segments of our population.”
Plus, said Horwitz, levying this kind of charge sets a bad precedent.
“In a fact pattern in which somebody voluntarily ingests a drug they know to be dangerous, we’re sort of ignoring our basic concept of free will," Horwitz said. "We’re making one person responsible for the behavior of others in a way we don’t generally do.”
It’s still too early to tell whether prosecuting heroin dealers for the death of their customers will stem the tide of illegal opioid sales and overdose deaths. But it's a gamble more states and municipalities are willing to take as overdose deaths continue to climb.
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