Addiction is both a personal health crisis and a public health concern; it wreaks havoc on individual lives and can damage entire communities. The opioid crisis, for example, has led to the deaths of thousands of people, devastated families, and left cities and towns struggling financially from the loss of a workforce. How we understand addiction, therefore, has significant policy implications. The trouble is, addiction is difficult to treat, relapse is common, and there is no scientific rule to explain why any given drinker, user of prescription drugs, or recreational marijuana user becomes dependent or addicted.
On May 25, the New York Times published an in-depth look at Drug Induced Homicide Laws (DIH), intended to punish people with sentences equivalent to those for manslaughter and murder for providing or purchasing drugs which resulted in an overdose death. Though states started enacting these laws in the 1980s, there has been a gradual increase in their application over the past 15 years. The current opioid crisis has created a trend of legislators and prosecutors passing and utilizing these laws as they search for ways to deter opioid use. After reading the article, I conducted an informal survey on a small group of my friends, family, and significant other. I explained the premise of the laws, which now exist in at least 36 states. Those around me saw the logic, if they were used to punish kingpins of drug trafficking rings. But as the New York Times article pointed out, the sad reality is that these laws are not being used against kingpins. Instead, they are being used to target the family members, friends, and significant others of those who have died from overdoses. I posed the question, “What if I overdosed one Friday night and you got sent to jail for murder?”