Expressing concerns that treating accidental drug overdoses is both counterproductive and dangerous, public health and recovery advocates call for the Providence Police Department to immediately halt their investigations of recent and tragic drug overdose deaths as homicides. The request was made in a letter sent by seven organizations to Providence Commissioner of Public Safety Steven Paré and other City officials.

In the past month, at least seven Rhode Islanders have tragically died from overdoses in the city of Providence. These deaths highlight the need to address this epidemic as the public health crisis that it is in order to make progress in saving lives. Regrettably, the Providence Police Department openly and immediately cited last year’s strongly opposed – but ultimately enacted – drug-induced homicide bill known as “Kristen’s Law” to investigate these deaths as murders.

“When we call a drug overdose a murder, we send a message of fear among people who use drugs together, or people who may sell small amounts of a substance to support their own habit. This fear – in the midst of a crisis – may prevent people from seeking life-saving help by calling 911, leading to more tragic deaths,” said Haley McKee, co-chair of the Substance Use Policy, Education and Recovery PAC. “We must ensure our Good Samaritan law is protected to give Rhode Islanders another chance at life after an overdose.”

Lisa Peterson, Chief Operating Officer of VICTA, added: “These laws further a legacy of failed criminalization efforts that have contributed to the crisis we have now. States that rely heavily on similar drug homicide laws, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, have seen a higher increase in overdose death rates than the country as a whole. Rhode Island and Providence must continue to invest in public health measures to protect the lives of our community members.”

“During testimony about ‘Kristen’s Law,’ law enforcement insisted that this tool would be used sparingly, to go after for drug kingpins. However, the Providence Police Department’s immediate invocation of the law only confirms the fears of those of us who worried about its broader use which could further criminalize and marginalize people who have a medical condition.” said Michelle McKenzie, Director of Preventing Overdose and Naloxone Intervention (PONI).

The letter to Commissioner Paré concluded with the groups offering to meet with him to discuss these concerns in more detail.

[From a press release]

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Nancy Green

Criminalization hasn’t worked to reduce drug deaths, and that should be the goal. I hope the General Assembly will be ready to look at better laws to deal with this problem.