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Associates becoming criminal defendants in fatal overdoses

In Pennsylvania and elsewhere, acquaintances and friends of drug users who fatally overdose are increasingly facing legal consequences. The number of people facing certain charges, such as third-degree murder from an accidental overdose, rose to 205 in 2017 from just 15 in 2013.

One woman, for example, is facing third-degree murder charges and other offenses after reportedly getting some heroin for her neighbor. Unbeknownst to either the woman or the neighbor, the heroin had been laced with Fentanyl, a deadly synthetic drug. This caused the neighbor to overdose and die. The woman reportedly turned herself. The maximum punishment that she could face if she is convicted ranges from 20 to 40 years in prison.

In addition to Pennsylvania, 19 other states have drug-induced homicide laws that criminalize helping another person obtain drugs. Many of these laws were first introduced in the 1980s during the crack epidemic as a way to take combat dealers and distributors off the streets. In some states, the laws are being revived and beefed up due to the opioid overdose crisis, which claimed the lives of more than 63,000 people in 2016 alone. It was hoped that threatening the dealers could make them get out of the opioid trade. However, others argue that criminalizing the dealers and others linked to fatal overdoses is just a way to make someone responsible for the death.

In addition to a lengthy jail sentence, certain drug charges can result in supervised release, major fines and a criminal record for those who are convicted. Because these consequences can have a major impact on a person's life and future, a strong defense is needed to protect the person's rights during and after the trial. A criminal law attorney may look for weaknesses in the case in order to challenge certain evidence and testimony.

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