Manslaughter is not too Harsh
Pain pills are some of the most powerful and deadly killers that the world has ever seen, yet they are used commonly accessed by thousands of people. A few well-known ones are Oxycontin. Percocet, and Vicodin. These are often referred to as “painkillers” because they are often used to numb the pain of a patient going through moderate to intense pain, but pain is not the only thing they are killing. According to the CDC, “In 2019, 70,630 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States.” The death rate is rising every year in staggering percentages such as a “…[67.9%] increase in death rates involving synthetic opioids…” which is the largest increase in the history of the United States.
This outbreak is getting exponentially worsened by anyone distributing these drugs without proper medical reasoning which includes when doctors and pharmaceuticals who are over prescribing medication and over delivering it. Anyone illegally distributing drugs should receive a harsher punishment with manslaughter being the harshest punishment if the distribution led to someone dying.
Many people think that drug dealers are not responsible for a customer overusing an opioid and should just be charged with illegal drug distribution and nothing more.
A similar situation occurred in the court case, R vs Kennedy, where a drug dealer, Simon Kennedy, was charged with manslaughter when his customer, Marco Bosque, died of an overdose. The prosecutor’s case was that because Kennedy supplied the opioid that led to Bosque’s death, he is responsible and should be convicted of manslaughter. However, the court sided with Kennedy and established that when a person supplies a drug to a fully informed and responsible adult, and they end up dying from the drug from freely using it, the supplier can not be held responsible. This decision is not valid, however, for most cases because an opiate abuser cannot be classified as a “responsible” adult.
Opioids cause damage to major brain systems which hinders decision-making ability. According to the National Library of Medicine, opioids target areas such as the Locus Coeruleus, which has neurons that are responsible for “[producing] a chemical, noradrenaline (NA), and [distributing] it to the other parts of the brain where it stimulates wakefulness, breathing, blood pressure, and general alertness, among other functions.“
Opioids also target the prefrontal cortex which is “important for regulation of judgement, planning, and other executive functions.” Use of opioids suppress the release of NA causing tiredness and decreased vigilance and convinces the prefrontal cortex that the drugs are worth it. With compromised brain functions, an opiate abuser is not responsible enough to control himself/herself, so if a drug dealer supplies them opiates, they are responsible if anything happens to them. The dealers know what the consequences are of taking an opioid, yet they give it anyway just for some money.
This doesn’t just pertain to drug dealers, however, but also doctors and even pharmaceutical companies because they are the main suppliers for opioids. If they overprescribe or over deliver, then they too should be charged with manslaughter.
People argue that doctors that overprescribe medications already face hard enough punishments whether it be exorbitant fines or losing their license to practice and adding manslaughter would be too harsh.
Just last year in San Diego, “Brenton Wynn, M.D., has paid $200,000 to resolve allegations that he illegally prescribed opioids and other dangerous drugs to his patients…” according to the Department of Justice. He had been illegally providing these drugs for over 5 years, and the prescriptions consisted of all deadly opioids including “…fentanyl, oxycodone, hydromorphone, methadone, oxymorphone, morphine…Xanax, and valium.”
Because these were just allegations, there was no determination of how liable Brenton was, so he only lost his ability to prescribe these medications and had to pay the fine. However, this is not enough punishment because $200,000 is not nearly enough to compensate for any human lives lost because of his own greed. Over the course of 5 years, these drugs could have led to dozens of people to die from overdosing because of how dangerous they are especially when using more than one at the same time.
For justice to be served, further investigations by the Department of Justice need to be done on all his patient histories to find which patients he prescribed opioids to, how legitimate the prescriptions were, and if anyone died from overdosing on one of his prescriptions. If there are any patients that did die, then Wynn should not only lose his license to practice, but also should be charged and arrested for manslaughter. Harsher punishments need to be implemented to prevent doctors like this from furthering the opioid epidemic.
People claim that pharmaceutical companies aren’t even providing drugs to individual people, so a manslaughter charge would not make sense.
However, pharmaceutical companies produce all the opioids, and they control where they go and how much goes there. If there is a particular place that seems to be ordering an abundant number of opioids, pharmaceutical companies need to act as checks and balances system by either investigating why there are so many opioids being delivered, or limiting the delivery based off population. According to the Washington Post, a small town in West Virginia with a population of just over three thousand, was shipped “…nearly 21 million prescription painkillers [over the past decade]” to split between just two pharmacies that are 0.2 miles apart.
When asked about the deliveries, one pharmacy declined to comment while the other claimed that “…while the numbers may seem disproportionate, the two pharmacies have to cover a large service area.” Opioids are meant to be given sparingly and only for emergencies, so even if the population is larger than the small town, 2.1 million drugs is way too many for them all to be given legitimately.
Further investigations need to be done on both pharmacies, especially the one that declined to comment, because West Virginia is the leading state in drug overdose cases, and suspicious activity like these pharmacies is the reason why. If people die from either pharmacy giving out fake prescriptions, the pharmaceutical companies to be held responsible in some sort of way for their lack of surveillance. Although they can’t be charged with manslaughter, they should have to pay exorbitant fines.
The argument that manslaughter is too harsh a punishment for doctors and dealers because they are not responsible for how someone used their product is not valid. This is because a person that has used opioids in the past is not under the right state of mind and can’t be classified as “responsible” for themselves. The argument that manslaughter is too harsh because there are already harsh enough punishments is also not valid because the outcome of their negligence or indifference is death.
“Drug Overdose Deaths.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Feb. 2022, http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/index.html.
“21 Million Pain Pills Flood into Small Town of 3,200.” Column Health, columnhealth.com/blog_posts/21-million-pain-pills-flood-into-small-town-of-3200/.
Ltd, All Answers. “R v Kennedy – 2007.” Law Teacher, LawTeacher, 26 Aug. 2021, http://www.lawteacher.net/cases/r-v-kennedy.php.
Kosten, Thomas R, and Tony P George. “The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment.” Science & Practice Perspectives, National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 2002, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851054/.
“San Diego Doctor Pays $200,000 to Resolve Allegations That He Wrote Illegitimate Opioid Prescriptions.” The United States Department of Justice, 2 Sept. 2021, http://www.justice.gov/usao-sdca/pr/san-diego-doctor-pays-200000-resolve-allegations-he-wrote-illegitimate-opioid.