According to a story in the Huffington Post this week, accidental overdoses are up across the country, surpassing death by motor vehicle accidents in 16 states including New York. The legislature is now looking at two very different bills to address the growing problem.
The first of these bills takes the old “tough on crime” approach. The approach that has led us to the losing “War on Drugs” and little but soaring corrections costs. It would hold the drug dealer accountable if a user died by overdose—charging him or her with manslaughter.
While the motivation may be admirable (holding someone accountable for overdose deaths), the bill would do very little to actually fix the problem. It would punish but not prevent—like so many other current drug laws. It wouldn’t prevent someone from accidentally overdosing and certainly won’t reduce drug sales. And as happened in a recent drug case in Massachusetts, these “get tough” charges of manslaughter by drug sale are often selective and unfair.
The other pending legislation, one supported by this piece from the Huffington Post, is said to focus solely on prevention. This bill encourages people to notify authorities if they see a potential overdose in progress. The bill applies to both drugs and alcohol overdose and lawmakers hope it would eliminate some of the fear that people have when debating whether to call authorities.
This overdose prevention bill would also reduce liability for possession for the whistle-blower, or the person that calls for help. In other words, if you are partying with a friend and you see them begin to show signs of distress, under this new legislation, your penalty for possessing any drugs at the scene could be reduced or eliminated because you tried to get help.
When it comes to drug laws, lawmakers are beginning to realize that draconian laws are not helpful. Sending people to prison for long periods typically only serves as a temporary solution—and one that costs taxpayers millions annually. By focusing on prevention and treatment instead of punishment, addicts may be able to get the help they need to kick a bad habit for good.
Just as New York repealed the Rockefeller drug laws of the 1990s, it’s hoped they will continue to see the value in prevention and treatment based drug legislation. However, it isn’t clear just how long these attitudes will take to truly change the system.
Currently, if you are facing charges of drug possession or intent to distribute, you are at risk of serious penalties that include jail time.