Public health advocates urge police to stop investigating OD deaths as homicides


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Public health advocates are calling for the Providence Police Department to stop homicide investigations related to possible accidental drug overdoses.

Last week, police announced detectives are investigating if seven suspected drug overdose deaths are connected.

“We’re doing everything we would do as if we were investigating a homicide because the outcome may be to charge whoever sold them these drugs,” Major David Lapatin explained.

The controversial “Kristen’s Law” would allow the state to charge drug dealers with murder if their product leads to a fatal overdose, but makes exceptions for those who share drugs and Good Samaritans who report those overdoses. It passed last year, but not without opposition.

Public health advocates have called the law “counterproductive” to work being done to help those with substance abuse.

Earlier this week, seven public health advocates signed and delivered a letter to public safety officials. Haley McKee, the co-chair of Substance Use Policy, Education and Recovery PAC, was one of the signatories. 

McKee and others are hoping to have a conversation with the city’s top public safety officials, like Commissioner Steven Pare.

“This is a public health issue, this is not a law enforcement issue,” McKee said.

McKee said despite how police may proceed with their investigation, other public safety officials have been receptive to taking a public health approach.

McKee pointed out that the Rhode Island State Police’s Heroin-Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) Initiative and Providence’s Safe Stations program through the fire department are perfect examples. 

“The ultimate goal here is to save lives. We don’t want people dying from overdoses. This is a preventable death,” McKee said.

Last week, Lapatin told Eyewitness News since toxicology results were still pending, none of the cases have been labeled a homicide and no arrests have been made.

Police and public safety officials were unavailable for comment Friday.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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