A Breathitt County woman was recently sentenced to 27 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to selling drugs. These drugs then resulted in the overdose death of a teen. This has brought up serious questions as to the responsibility of the dealer for the death of the addict.
I have found myself wrestling with this issue, drifting between believing that the dealer should be charged with the crime of trafficking or wanton endangerment because of knowingly distributing a dangerous substance. What she was actually charged with is a relatively new charge, and one for which a person had never been convicted of in Kentucky. The charges were conspiracy to knowingly and intentionally distribute oxycodone, and distribution of oxycodone that resulted in death.
These charges are nearly equivalent to murder, despite the fact that the deceased chose to purchase and then take the pills while fully understanding the risk.
While this is a new kind of charge holding those indirectly involved accountable for the products that they sell, it is not the only law of its kind. There have been several states that have started to prosecute people for selling weapons that are in turn used in some illegal way.
In Florida, a law states that if you give a gun to another person and have any reason at all to believe it could be used to commit a crime, you can be held responsible for this. Considering there is nothing legal that can be done with trafficked pills once they have been sold, the seller has the responsibility for selling them and understanding the illegal use of them.
I have mulled over this sentence for several weeks since it was given on Oct. 3. The main reason why these charges are considered a good thing by law enforcement is because drug dealers will also have to consider the possibility of getting five to 10 years for first-degree trafficking, but up to 50 years for contributing to a death.
The hope is that fewer drug dealers will take that risk, making illegal drugs harder to find for addicts. While this has been the hope of every drug law passed to help fewer dangerous substances get into the hands of addicts, this measure raises the accountability of the dealer.
Many people never see the adverse effects of their actions and therefore do not have a sense of truly how bad they can be. Most drug dealers also use drugs and often sell to support their own habits, so they do not consider how dangerous these drugs truly are.
In the case of the Breathitt County woman who sold drugs to a 19-year-old that then passed away, the dealer could not, did not, or chose not to consider the differences in reactions that may occur. This death is comparable to a neglect or abuse charge.
It is hard to say what will impact the drug problem in Eastern Kentucky, and while this latest conviction may not make any current drug dealers rethink their responsibility, it may help future generations understand the severity of the crime and severity of the consequences both in justice and in the cost of human life.