Heroin, Murder, and the New Front in the War on Drugs

https://www.vice.com/read/heroin-murder-and-the-new-front-in-the-war-on-drugs-928

Sean Harrington has been in jail for more than 16 months. He was extradited from Philadelphia to Polk County, North Carolina, to face a second-degree murder charge. But he didn’t shoot or stab anyone. Instead, he allegedly mailed heroin and cocaine to a friend and fellow addict named Elisif Bruun. She ingested them, probably as a speedball, and was found dead on February 11, 2014, lying face-down in her room at the CooperRiis Healing Community in Western North Carolina.

She was 24, her latest go at recovery her last…

It can be tough to find a true villain among the legions using and selling opioids, two groups that often overlap. This is especially true given that for many, heroin use was preceded by the abuse of widely-prescribed opioids like OxyContin, which as of 2013, was responsible for more deaths than heroin. That includes Bruun who, according to her father, got started on opioids thanks to a friend selling OxyContin taken from his grandmother’s medicine cabinet…

In September 2013, Joseph L. Robinson, an Illinois man living near near St. Louis, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for selling a man who later died two-tenths of a gram of heroin—for $30…

In February 2014, beloved actor Philip Seymour Hoffman became the public face of the heroin crisis after he died from an overdose involving heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and benzodiazepines. The New York Police Department was eager to find a culprit other than the actor’s long-term addiction, and quickly settled on Robert Aaron—legal name Robert Aaron Vineberg—a musician and addict who said he sometimes sold heroin to friends. But it was never proved that Aaron’s heroin was involved in Hoffman’s death, and charges were later downgraded from serious distribution to possession, to which he pleaded guilty…

Federal prosecutors in states around the country, including Oregon, Texas, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, are filing these kinds of charges in response to opioid deaths. In Southern Illinois, Porter says that their office began to file such charges after Wigginton’s 2010 appointment, and that he has so far won 11 convictions. In July, a federal judge in Kentucky sentenced a man to life without parole for dealing oxycodone to a user who died; that district’s US Attorney’s Office said it was “the first time in Kentucky that a life sentence was imposed in an overdose death case involving prescription drugs.” (There is no parole in the federal system for crimes committed on or after November 1, 1987.) …

State prosecutors also appear to be pursuing harsh charges with growing frequency. In Wisconsin, prosecutors charged 71 people with first-degree reckless homicide by drug delivery in 2013, an increase from 47 in 2012, according to USA Today.

In New Jersey, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato has made these sorts of charges a focus, and his office is training police around the state on how to investigate heroin-related deaths…

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