Opinion

Charging murder for an overdose raises risks

North Carolina emergency department visits for suspected opioid overdoses rose 31 percent between the third quarter of 2016 and the same quarter of 2017, a report says. That compares to a Southeast region increase of 14 percent
North Carolina emergency department visits for suspected opioid overdoses rose 31 percent between the third quarter of 2016 and the same quarter of 2017, a report says. That compares to a Southeast region increase of 14 percent

There is nothing like the pain of losing a child. There is nothing like the heartache of knowing they are gone from the physical world and this huge hole exists that could never have been imagined for all of us, parents, siblings, friends, and it ripples on and on. Our lives will never be righted from this, so we learn to accept this every day and try to honor the amazing gift they were to us all along.

As a group of North Carolina moms who have lost children to alcohol and drug-related deaths, we know this pain all too well. And as overdose deaths in our state continue to mount, more and more families are suffering the unimaginable.

We want to stop this cycle of loss anyway we can. We want to prevent more people from dying. And we want justice for those we have lost. But murder charges for low level distributors are not the answer. We believe more lives will be destroyed as a result.

Our kids knew drugs and binge drinking were dangerous, but they experimented anyway. Someone provided them with the drugs and alcohol but no one forced them. It was their choice.

Our children have died. They were young but sometimes reckless, they were wonderful and just the best thing ever. There was no malice in their deaths from low-level dealers or friends who made these choices right along with them. The teens they were with never thought their friends would die.

It is common for kids to share drugs with each other— and sharing can legally be classified as “distributing,” which can trigger a murder charge in some states-even if no money was exchanged. In fact, data from across the country shows that the majority of these murder charges have been brought against friends or family members of the person who overdosed – not against those this law was intended for — the kingpin drug dealers.. More than 50 percent of the time, the murder charges are against siblings, cousins, friends or husbands and wives — family members — many who were sharing drugs with each other. These are not Murderers. There is no malice or intent here.

Our biggest question is how can we help prevent other families from losing a child from drugs or alcohol abuse. Not only do murder charges not prevent people from selling/sharing drugs, but they could actually cause more deaths. Kids more often than not use drugs together, and if one person overdoses, the others might be afraid to call for help because they don’t want to get in trouble. Recognizing this, North Carolina passed a 911 Good Samaritan law in 2013 to protect people from being prosecuted for small amounts of drugs or underage drinking if they seek help for an overdose.

Unfortunately, our children died before they had a chance to hear about this law even though the law was passed years earlier. They died when people could have called for help, but didn’t because they were afraid and hoped everything would just be OK. That’s why we call our group Project Leave No One Behind. We want people to look out for each other. We have been traveling to communities to talk about the 911 Good Samaritan law. Our daughters speak at high schools and events to make teens aware of this law and it’s life-saving potential. Our Chatham County Sheriff’s Department recently made a PSA to help create awareness of the law. Already we have heard several young adults called for help when a friend overdosed after hearing about the law. Lives are saved when people aren’t afraid to do the right thing. That is why murder charges for an overdose are so dangerous. If kids won’t call 911 for fear of a simple drug charge, they certainly won’t call for fear of a murder charge.

Charging someone with murder when they had no malice won’t bring our kids back. It will only take someone else’s kids away.

Julie Cummins, Mary O’Donnell, & Jamie Summers are members of Project Leave No One Behind- a group made up of family members who have lost loved ones to preventable circumstances where drugs and/or alcohol were involved.

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