Once we push past the emotive testimony of those who lost loved ones to overdose and are seeking some form of justice for what happened – once we push past the election year posturing of politicians wanting to look tough-on-crime during the present opioid crisis – we get to the facts, as presented by experts in addiction: Kristen’s Law, as well-intentioned as it may seem to be, will do nothing to deter drug use and drug crime and will cause significant harm, destroying families and impacting the most vulnerable.
Note: The videos below are presented in order, except for Suzanne Coutu, who I moved to the top. Those wishing to hear from experts in addiction about the proposed law should skip to videos numbered 07, 08 and 11 thru 17 below.
Suzanne Coutu, in heart-breaking testimony, said her daughter, Kristen, “was 29 years old when she was murdered, her life cut short. She was the victim of a ruthless, money-hungry drug dealer who had no compunction about the lethal drugs he was selling to his customers. Kristen was sold pure fentanyl, rather than heroine, when she went to this dealer, which is 50 times more lethal. As the dealer drove away, with $20 or $40 in his pocket, Kristen used what she thought was heroine, and died instantly, alone in a car, on a busy street, her parent’s worst nightmare.”
Coutu was before the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday evening advocating for Kristen’s Law, H7715, which would make the “death of all human beings as a result of a controlled substance transaction” a homicide in Rhode Island. The bill was introduced by Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) at the request of Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.
“While this is hardly the only answer to the epidemic of overdose deaths in Rhode Island,” continued Coutu, “It should send a strong message that if someone wants to prey on those who are ill, those who have a substance usage disorder, they will pay the price with their own life. We in Rhode Island have to uphold the sanctity of human life, all human life, we cannot allow drug traffickers and dealers to kill our best and brightest people with impunity.”
Coutu was the third person to speak on the bill, after it was introduced by House Judiciary Chair Cale Keable (Democrat, District 47, Burrillville, Glocester).
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Danica Iacoi is Mattiello’s chief legal council, sent to the committee to make the Speaker’s case for the legislation.
Assistant Attorney General Joee Lindbeck was dispatched to the hearing to make Kilmartin’s case for the legislation.
Michael DiLauro, director of legislative initiatives at the Rhode Island Public Defender‘s office isaid he was “leery” of changing the homicide law in this way, citing a series of judicial decisions that would be affected in “unintended” ways.
The ACLU of Rhode Island is opposed to the legislation, said executive director Steven Brown. He noted that the legislation may impact Rhode Island’s Good Samaritan law, which allows people calling in the overdose of another person to escape prosecution for drug use themselves. The idea of the Good Samaritan law being that it is more important to save a life than to prosecute someone doing illegal drugs.
Lisa Peterson is an expert in substance abuse. She warned the committee about the negative effects of mass incarceration, especially on low-income communities of color. She talked knowledgeably about the ways in which illegal drugs are distributed and consumed, with people slipping in and out of the roles of dealer and user, often within minutes.
“This legislation, although well-intentioned, will only lead to more of our family members, friends and loved ones being removed from our lives before they themselves could achieve recovery,” said Peterson.
Annajane Yolken is the executive director of Protect Families First, a nonprofit organization that works to promote drug policies and practices that promote community health and safety, keep families intact, support youth, and keep people out of the criminal justice system.
She spoke against the legislation, noting the complexity of drug use fact patterns. “People have been talking about a lethal dose of drugs. That lethal dose varies based on the person. It varies based on their tolerance. it varies based on whether they are doing other drugs at the same time, if they’re mixing different drugs, it varies based on the person’s health condition. I just want to be clear that there’s no one lethal dose of drugs for every person.”
Here is the testimony of a family who lost a son to overdose. They are in favor of the legislation.
Amber Perry lost her brother to overdose. She spoke in favor of the legislation.
Michael Galipeau is the president of the Rhode Island User’s Union. His testimony is essential to understanding the impact of ill-conceived legislation such as Kristen’s Law.
“Being a survivor of overdose, hearing a bill like this, if I were the person holding that plunger to my arm, I would tell my friends to back away and leave,” said Galipeau. “Whatever happens may happen, do not call the police, because I do not want any of my friends to go to jail for life for my decision. I think there are many users that understand this, and I think there is no way to implement an overt policy like this without generating significant fear among an already highly impacted and stigmatized community. ”
The Opioid Crisis Is Blurring the Legal Lines Between Victim and Perpetrator and is opposed. The proposed legislation will “not only do absolutely no good, but it will also cause profound harm.”wrote
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