Pubdate: Sat, 24 Aug 2002
Source: St. Petersburg Times (FL)
Copyright: 2002 St. Petersburg Times
Author: Dan Johnson


Re: Charges in drug deaths problematic, Aug. 19.

I recently read with great interest the article by Leanora Minai on
when to charge drug suppliers with murder under Florida law. This is a
very difficult issue when there is a loss of life involved.

Take a moment and assess a situation that young people may be faced
with one day. You have recreational drug users who are partying with
friends and something starts to go horribly wrong. One of the users
starts experiencing trouble, so you have a group of people (most
likely) in an altered state of mind having to make life-and-death
decisions about what to do next. In the back of their subconscious
minds they realize that if something dreadful happens and this person
dies, they could be tried for murder or perhaps a lesser charge of
manslaughter. At that point, everybody is wishing things were
different, but they must deal with the here and now. So, the somewhat
rationalizing thoughts begin, that given some time the person in
trouble will miraculously come out of it -- or maybe they just need to
"sleep it off." In many cases this can be the beginning of the end for
that friend in trouble. Sadly, it is difficult to think clearly in
this situation, especially when laws exist that are meant to
"prosecute" rather than "protect."

Death from an accidental overdose is preventable in most cases if
emergency medical help is summoned quickly enough. The problem is that
this law causes hesitation and confusion when clear and concise
thinking is essential.

A couple of the effects of this law have since become apparent.
Convictions resulting from the statute are few and far between, but
the number of drug-related deaths has increased dramatically and the
situation is worsening. Our legislators, in their infinite wisdom,
come up with a law that may be causing more harm than good.

There is no simple solution for this complex problem; however, it is
wrong for law enforcement to be threatening possible jail time for
people who are trying to do the "right thing by summoning for help
quickly" in this horrifying situation. As a society, our goal should
be one that most effectively reduces the death, disease, crime and
suffering associated with drug use and overdose.

Most important, if we are to overcome this alarming increase in
drug-related deaths, the Legislature and law enforcement have a
responsibility to make it perfectly clear that the preservation of
life is first and foremost in these situations.

Palm Harbor
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