WHEN DRUGS KILL, SHOULD THE DEALER BE HELD RESPONSIBLE?

People will always find a way to get high. The beautiful struggle that is everyday life has a way of ensuring this. If an adult decides to smoke, snort or inject to their heart’s desire, whose fault is it if or when that adult subsequently overdoses and dies? Do factors like race and socioeconomic status change the answer?

Events in West Milford, New Jersey would seem to suggest so. Last week, a 33-year old resident of the Passaic County township overdosed on heroin. The resident in question was a white female. After her death, authorities charged a 26-year old black male with selling the drugs that killed her. The formal charge is strict liability in a drug induced death (NJS2C-35-9).

This law is rarely enforced. In fact, one New Jersey prosecutor noted that she had only seen it used once in her 30 years of experience. Experts say a big reason for this is that black market drug sales are often untraceable. In those instances when they are traced, is it right to hold the dealer responsible for the user’s death?

I think not. As someone whose had a family member overdose on drugs, not once did I blame their supplier. The truth is, if that dealer didn’t sell it to them, then someone else would have. Such is the way of the world.

Let’s also acknowledge the elephant in the room. It’s hard to believe that this young man would be facing the same consequences if he sold to another person of color and they died. The crime here is that a black man from the inner city sold drugs to a suburban white woman. While there should be some charges he has to answer to for peddling narcotics, blaming him for this woman’s death is a stretch.

An adult is defined as someone who is fully grown or developed (physically, mentally, etc.) Only time will tell how this narrative plays out but in the interim, don’t forget that personal responsibility is a huge part of being an adult.