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Kansas, other states adopt law to charge drug dealers after opioid overdose

Big national news stories of 2017
Posted at 4:56 PM, Feb 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-25 18:31:27-05

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — As opioid deaths reach an all-time high, states across the country, including Kansas, have adopted a law that allows prosecutors to charge those who supply the drugs after a person's overdose death.

"To be able to hold somebody accountable that keeps their loved one addicted and after results in either their serious injury or death, I think they are very much appreciative of that," Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said.

So far, 20 states have enacted what are called "drug-induced homicide" laws.

"In Kansas, we instituted about three years ago a new law which basically allows us to prosecute people who deal drugs that results in the death or serious injury of another person," Howe said.

Howe is glad to see that other states are now adopting the same law.

"They should embrace that. You don't have to charge it every single time you have a situation like that. But it does give you the ability to go after some really dangerous offenders," Howe said.

Since Kansas enacted the law in 2016, Johnson County has brought the charge a couple of times, and some are still pending.

Those charged under the law face between 12 to 50 years in prison.

Not everyone supports these type of laws, however. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, a similar law in Illinois faced criticism because critics said it treats drug addicts who simply share the drugs with another person as criminals.

The article also said that some believe the laws are too vague and treat people who share drugs as "sinister kingpins."

But Howe believes the law is just another weapon in prosecutors' arsenal to hold opioid dealers accountable.

"It's another opportunity to hammer the drug dealers who are basically dealing death to other individuals," he said. "Because if you are dealing with things like fentanyl or heroin, it's a matter of time before people typically overdose on those. It has a direct impact on the community."