Drug-Induced Homicide Bill


Drug-Induced Homicide Bill

By: Charlotte Meredith

What is the Drug-Induced Homicide Bill?

This bill makes it a level one drug felony if a person sells, dispenses, distributes, or otherwise transfers any amount of a controlled substance (or drugs, in other words) and the transfer is the proximate cause of another person who consumed the material sold to them, and that results in death by overdose. These laws vary from state to state in how they are classified, what elements need to be proven, as well as the length of the sentence. The bill for Colorado, though not officially passed, sentences 32 years for the person who sold the drugs to the one who died. This data set (see the link following Data Set) highlights these differences among the state drug-induced homicide laws. 


Drug-induced homicide bills have gained popularity due to the increase in overdose deaths, and in response to this, Legislators from all over the U.S. have been hoping to have this bill passed, which seeks to hold drug distributors criminally responsible for these deaths. The laws target drug traffickers and are resulting in friends, family members, and romantic partners of overdose victims being charged for their death. A report from 2017 by Drug Policy Alliance says that those prosecuted for drug-induced homicide increased by 300% in six years. That’s about 363 homicides in 2011 to 1171 homicides in 2016. Unfortunately, racial disparities also play a role in these bills and are present in large numbers when the victim is white and the dealer is a person of color. Racial bias is also evident in the number of sentences being handed down to drug-induced homicide defendants of color,  for example, nearly nine years for those of color and five for whites. These laws establish criminal liability for individuals who furnish or deliver controlled substances to another individual who dies as a result.

Why Isn’t This Fair?

While researching for this article, I found a note from medical professionals that was sent to the legislators, trying to convince them not to pass the bill. They say the following: More than 30 years of high-quality scientific data show that DIH laws do not decrease overdose deaths or the availability of illicit drugs. A DIH law is, “the practice of charging individuals who supply drugs that result in a fatal overdose with homicide, even in the absence of specific intent to cause death” Instead, they are known to worsen the health outcomes of those with substance use disorder by deterring people from calling for help during an overdose. As shown before in previous articles, Colorado is in the midst of the worst overdose crisis in history, and this bill will worsen the situation, rather than fix it. Passing this bill contradicts the Good Samaritan legislation that has been going on for over two years. The Good Samaritan Act is, “The Good Samaritan statute states that its purpose is to encourage people to help others who are in trouble and to volunteer their assistance without compensation. It is also designed to ensure that rescuers act responsibly in providing emergency care.” This bill contradicts this because they create fear that calling in for help in an overdose means risking felony prosecution and up to 32 years in prison. Therefore, potentially fatal overdose deaths become fatal ones – more overdose deaths, not less. In addition to this, 30 years of data demonstrate that DIH laws do not decrease the validity of illicit drugs. Instead, this demonstrates that these laws end up criminalizing users and several studies show that policies like this one worsen health outcomes, such as HIV, overdose, hepatitis C virus, and severe skin infections. The Senate amendments to this bill (SB-109) do not mitigate the negative health impacts of the bill, and Colorado has no reason to be an exception. Also, patients are not typically going to be reading the entire bill, instead, they will hear the phrase, “drug-induced homicide” law and they will be deterred from calling 9-1-1 in the event of an overdose for fear of retribution.


What Can You Do?

The Colorado Drug Policy Colation says that one of the best ways and most efficient is to call legislators and tell them how you feel. Templates can also be found on the websites to draft an email to send. Templates and the legislator’s phone number can be found here: https://www.bringourneighborshome.org/no-on-sb23-109#call. It is important to take action on this bill because of its negative impacts.