AZ: Arizona bill aims to charge drug dealers connected to overdose deaths with homicide

NBC News –

Opponents of the bill worry that mandatory minimums and the language in the bill go too far.

PHOENIX — An Arizona bill that would allow drug dealers connected to overdoses to be charged with murder was held in committee Wednesday, making it an uphill climb to pass this session.

If made into law, HB2779 would allow prosecutors to charge dealers with Drug Dealing Homicide. The crime would be a Class 1 felony and come with a sentence between 10 and 29 years if prosecutors could prove a dangerous drug a person delivered led to the overdose death of someone else.

“If this law passes it will make a big difference,” Sommer Cupp said.

Last year, Sommer’s daughter Hannah died from an overdose of fentanyl. 

“This is absolutely the most devastating thing a person can possibly go through,” Cupp said.

Sommer said Hannah died after picking up a pill left behind by Hannah’s boyfriend. Sommer said she feels her daughter deserves justice.

“My goal with this bill is to make people criminally responsible,” Sommer said.

The bill would also increase mandatory minimums for selling, making, shipping or administering drugs like fentanyl and heroin.

The bill is supposed to be aimed at drug dealers, but opponents have some concerns.

The problem with the legislation, according to some opponents, is it is too broad and doesn’t address the underlying issue of drug addiction.

“It doesn’t differentiate between someone who is a mass producer a mass seller of drugs and someone who might be selling to support their habit. Someone who might be a friend of someone,” Rebecca Fealk with the American Friends Service Committee said.

“You know you can’t punish an addiction out of someone,” Fealk said. “Prison is not justice, prison exacerbates harm.”

Virginia Mireles says the measure would not catch the dealers but people like her. Mireles has spent 17 years in and out of prison while battling a heroin addiction.

“Unfortunately, it’s those who battle with a drug addiction who are going to be caught up with it,” Mireles said.

She said the bill would likely hit those with addiction problems making mistakes to feed their habit.

Mireles said prison does not work well for helping addicts kick the habit.

“You leave with the same thinking and the same habits and the same coping skills as when you went in,” Mireles said. “It creates a revolving door.”

Instead, Mireles said more rehab options should be made available to address the underlying problem instead of increasing how long people spend in prison.

“If we stop criminalizing behavior or behaviors that we can fix or behavior that can be addressed like an addiction, I think that we would all be better off,” Mireles said.

Sommer Cupp believes harsher penalties are needed to protect lives.

“Heroin is a lethal drug. There is no reason for you to be roaming around,” Cupp said. “Somebody has to be held responsible, maybe they will stop.”

The bill is seen as a long shot to pass.

If you or a loved one is battling addiction you can call the SAMHSA National Helpline 1-800-662-4357.

The state also has a list of resources here.

More information about talking about and monitoring teen drug use is available at the National Institute of Health website, the Way Out West Coalition website or the MATFORCE website.

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