Drug overdose deaths in the United States worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic, hitting a record high of 93,331 in 2020. Synthetic opioids, specifically fentanyl, accounted for approximately 73% of all opioid-involved deaths in that year. Franklin County Ohio alone experienced a 45% increase in overdose deaths as compared to 2019.
But opioids tell only part of the story. A relatively new problem is catching the attention of federal and state prosecutors. It is the strong connection between counterfeit prescription pills and overdose deaths.
Manufacturing cheaper synthetics
Counterfeit pills, which are illicitly manufactured in clandestine labs, look nearly identical to real drugs but contain the cheaper synthetic fentanyl filler as the active ingredient. These counterfeit pills are illegally sold as Oxycodone, Xanax, and Percocet by street dealers either in person or over the internet and then delivered by mail. The danger to unsuspecting buyers is that a lethal dosage of fentanyl is just two milligrams, equivalent to a few grains of salt, as compared to a lethal dose of heroin, which is closer to 30 milligrams. A large percentage of overdose deaths are related to individuals buying what they thought were real opioids, i.e., a Percocet, when in fact it was a fake pill laced with the deadly fentanyl.
Increased Prosecutions Involuntary Manslaughter
Prosecutors at the state and federal levels have increased prosecutions of those selling the drugs. For example, if a person sells a fake or counterfeit prescription pill which is laced with fentanyl, which then results in a buyer’s death, the seller could be charged with involuntary manslaughter under Ohio law. This is true even if the seller had no idea that the pills sold were counterfeit and laced with fentanyl.
Ohio Revised Code § 2903.04 (Involuntary Manslaughter) states that “no person shall cause the death of another… as a proximate result of the offender committing a felony offense.” As such, the seller, by committing the felony of trafficking drugs, can face up to eleven (11) years in prison selling counterfeit pills, even if the seller believes the pills are the actual drug and not laced with dangerous fillers. Ohio law does not require the prosecution to prove that the seller knew the pills were laced with fentanyl, but only that a link exists between the drug sold and the overdose death.
Many question this policy of prosecuting for Manslaughter.
Why should street level dealers be prosecuted for manslaughter when they are often unaware of the deadly nature of the drugs they are selling? Moreover, the manufacturers of the counterfeit pills, who laced them with fentanyl, often escape prosecution because they have shielded themselves in anonymity. Often, the manufactured pills are sold to street level dealers online or from a chain of barely known contacts, making the investigation and prosecution nearly impossible. One thing is clear. If you have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in a case involving counterfeit pills which lead to an overdose death, you need to consult with an experienced attorney.
Call Attorney W. Joseph Edwards, an Ohio licensed criminal defense attorney with over 25 years of experience, at 614-309-0243.