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Purely Local Tragedies: How Prosecuting Drug-Induced Homicide in Federal Court Exacerbates the Overdose Crisis


The United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, which has resulted in resulting hundreds of thousands of overdose deaths. State and local officials are in the best position to enact lifesaving measures. The federal government, however, has largely responded to this crisis through punitive measures, including charging drug users with drug induced homicide.

When someone suffers a fatal overdose, the Controlled Substances Act allows federal prosecutors to charge the individual(s) who delivered the drugs that caused the overdose. This statute imposes a mandatory minimum of twenty years in prison. Although this statute was enacted to penalize high-level drug dealers, many people charged under it are companions of the deceased and oftentimes drug users themselves. Not only is this unjust, but it threatens to further exacerbate the overdose crisis that has devastated so many communities.

This Note argues that because many of these prosecutions arise from incidents that do not involve traditional drug deals, the Commerce Clause does not give the federal government authority to prosecute co-users who share the drugs that ultimately cause an overdose. Furthermore, by charging co-users with drug-induced homicide, federal prosecutors threaten to derail local efforts to mitigate the overdose crisis.

The opioid epidemic continues to take hundreds of lives each day. Therefore, it is imperative that federal officials pursue the most effective means of preventing further fatalities. However, charging drug users with homicide serves only to exacerbate the problem.