America’s Favorite Antidote: Drug-Induced Homicide in the Age of the Overdose Crisis

71 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2018 Last revised: 15 Aug 2018

Leo Beletsky

Northeastern University - School of Law; Northeastern University - Bouvé College of Health Sciences

Date Written: May 18, 2018

Abstract

Nearing the end of its second decade, the overdose crisis in the United States has gone from bad to worse. Despite the advent of a supposed “public health” approach to this epidemic, progress on scaling up evidence-based prevention and response measures remains slow. Meanwhile, criminal law and its enforcement continue to dominate the arsenal of policies invoked to address the crisis. This Article examines the surging popularity of one such approach. Now on the books in the majority of U.S. states and federally, drug-induced homicide laws and their analogues implicate dealers in accidental overdose fatalities. By engaging criminal law theory and empirical legal research, I articulate an interdisciplinary instrumentalist critique of these measures in response to the overdose crisis. Data systematically extracted from reports on 263 drug-induced homicide prosecutions informs concerns about facial and as-applied defects. Patterns identified suggest rapid, accelerating diffusion in these prosecutions in many hard-hit jurisdictions; pronounced enforcement and sentencing disparities by race; and broad misclassification of drug-using partners, family members, and others as “dealers.” Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events. This analysis illustrates an urgent opportunity to critically re-assess the architecture and mechanisms of drug control in the U.S., reframing criminal justice reform as a public health imperative vital to improving the response to the worst drug crisis in America’s history.

Keywords: Criminal Law, Public Health, Drug-Induced Homicide, Drug Law, Overdose

Suggested Citation

Beletsky, Leo, America’s Favorite Antidote: Drug-Induced Homicide in the Age of the Overdose Crisis (May 18, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3185180 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3185180

Leo Beletsky (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - School of Law; Northeastern University - Bouvé College of Health Sciences ( email )

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States
617-373-5540 (Phone)

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