Drug dealers could face homicide charges in cases in which their customers die as a result of their product, under legislation that will be considered in Rhode Island’s General Assembly.
Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and state Sen. Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston, announced Wednesday they would introduce legislation taking aim at drug-induced homicides in the state.
The proposed bill would identify overdose deaths from tainted drugs as murder, setting penalties of up to life in prison for dealers convicted of selling a product leading to an overdose death.
“As the opioid crisis continues, we are seeing increasingly more lethal synthetic drugs hit the streets because they are cheaper and easier to manufacture and distribute,” Kimartin said. “Make no mistake about it, drug traffickers are fully aware they are selling synthetic drugs that are 100 times more powerful than prescription counterparts and can likely lead to death.”
If passed, Kilmartin said the act would be named Kristen’s Law in honor of former Cranston resident Kristen Coutu, who died after taking a deadly dose of fentanyl in 2014.
Coutu’s dealer, Aaron Andrade, was accused of selling the fentanyl in April 2017. Under the terms of a plea agreement, Andrade was sentenced to 40 years with 20 years to serve and the remainder suspended with probation, on one count of second-degree murder.
In Rhode Island, current statutes already identify the sale, delivery or distribution of a controlled substance as a felony, with provisions that call for life in prison in cases in wihich the sale leads to the death of a minor.
The legislators said that the proposed legislation would extend these penalties across the board, holding dealers accountable in any case that ends with an overdose death, regardless of the victim’s age.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, 20 states have drug-induced homicide statutes in some capacity.Rhode Island is already included on that list.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded in a recent study that most of the increase in fentanyl deaths did not involve prescription fentanyl. Rather, they were related to illicitly manufactured fentanyl and counterfeit opioid pills that are mixed with highly lethal analogs and then sold without the user’s knowledge of their lethality.
Kilmartin, Mattiello and Gallo said that cases like Coutu’s are far too common, and in many cases the dealer knows whether drugs have been cut but does not reveal that information to their buyers.
“Rhode Islanders across all walks of life are feeling the impacts of the opioid crisis. I have personally known too many Rhode Islanders who have been devastated during this crisis, including Kristen, who was a friend of my daughter,” Gallo said. “We need to send a strong, clear message to drug dealers that people are dying as a result of their actions.”