NewsLocal NewsIn Your NeighborhoodFond du Lac


What does the law say about drug charges in overdose cases?

Drug Prices Lobbying
Posted at 7:43 PM, Apr 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-14 20:44:22-04

RIPON (NBC 26) — Three people in Ripon left an 18-year-old man outside after he began showing symptoms of overdosing, according to Ripon Police. Suspects later taken into custody in connection with his death could face charges such as drug possession and reckless homicide, according to Ripon Police

The reckless homicide charge which suspects could face, could carry a decades-long prison sentence.

But professor John Gross at the University of Wisconsin said this was not the original intention of the law.

"The statutes were originally enacted to go after essentially drug kingpins,” Gross said. “The idea was that people who were distributing large amounts of narcotics that were resulting in death through overdoses, that they should be held criminally responsible for those deaths."

But Gross says the statute also applies to cases like the one in Ripon.

"The definition of 'distribute' in the statute includes a situation where two people both agree that they're going to purchase and use drugs together,” Gross said. “One person actually makes the purchase of the drugs and then gives some of the drugs to the other person who is also going to use. The person who gave the drugs to their friend to use is considered a distributor, even if they're using the same drugs and exposing themselves to the same potential risk of an overdose."

Wisconsin does have so-called "Good Samaritan laws."

They only protect people from prosecution for unsuccessfully attempting medical care (not including doctors or trained medical professionals) or for calling 911 in an overdose situation.

Professor Gross said this statute could discourage people from calling for help.

"I think the law sends a pretty chilling message to folks about seeking assistance for someone who might be overdosing, if they themselves gave them the drug and were also using the drug, if they're going to be seen as a distributor who deserves to go to jail,” Gross said.

While police have not told us what type of drug was used in the Ripon case, Joe Longo and Wendy Compton work with the drug rehabilitation center Beacon House in Fond du Lac and they said early intervention in overdoses is key.

“What happens is, is, they just pass all... pass out, and... they're out of it,” said Longo, who is the president of Beacon’s board. “And some if they don't get help, in a short time they die.”

Compton stressed the importance of using Narcan, if possible. Narcan is the opioid "overdose reversal drug," according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

"You want to call 911 first, and then administer Narcan because sometimes it takes two doses of the Narcan in order for it to work,” Compton said.

While the Ripon case is still under investigation, the charges are pending.

“This is all up to prosecutorial discretion,” Gross said.