Be Careful: You Could Be Charged With Murder If Someone You Know Overdoses

When a family member or friend — or even an acquaintance — overdoses on drugs, the first instinct people have is to call for help. Unfortunately, there's a distressing trend in legal jurisdictions around the nation to now treat every overdose as a crime scene. 

That puts anyone who might be involved in danger of being charged with a crime as serious as manslaughter or murder. Here's what you need to know in order to protect yourself.

How does an overdose become a murder?

Essentially, the logic of the prosecution is this: An overdose death is the fault of the person who supplied the drugs to the victim, not an accident caused by the victim's own poor decisions.

In reality, this means that you can be charged with murder or manslaughter when:

  • You sold drugs to someone who accidentally overdoses later, even though you had no control over how they used the drugs.
  • A friend or relative overdoses after you gave them your extra pain medication because they injured their back and you were trying to relieve their suffering.
  • You're an addict yourself and you buy drugs and then share them — for free — with a friend or relative who is also addicted and that person overdoses.
  • You're a college student who has a "stash" of drugs and your roommate takes some and overdoses.

Why are prosecutors doing this?

The logic behind the rash of overdose deaths is that prosecutors are trying to stop drug dealers from putting deadly drugs on the streets. In particular, they're hoping to raise the stakes so much that dealers stop putting fentanyl or carfentanil as an additive to other drugs to give them a more powerful — albeit dangerous — high.

Unfortunately, the side-effect of this policy is that friends, relatives, roommates, fellow addicts and everyone else — not just actual drug dealers — can be prosecuted after someone dies from an overdose if they even loosely "supplied" that person with drugs.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Obviously, if you're with someone who overdoses, you should call for help. Most states have "Good Samaritan" laws in place that prevent you from being charged for possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia by police officers who respond to a 911 report of an overdose. 

However, these days, to fully protect yourself, you should not admit anything to the first responders or police on the scene about your role in the overdose. You can tell them what drug the overdose victim took if you know it, but don't offer any information about how you came by that knowledge.

If you are questioned by police after the overdose, do not lie — but don't answer their questions either. The wisest thing you can do to avoid prosecution is to invoke your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. The police can't prosecute you if they don't have the information to do it — and they're far less likely to get that information if you remain silent.