Senate passes law holding drug dealers accountable for OD deaths


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Senate has approved a bill that would hold drug dealers accountable for overdose deaths.

“Kristen’s Law” would allow prosecutors to charge drug dealers with murder if their products lead to a fatal overdose. The bill is named for Kristen Coutu, a Cranston woman who died in 2014 after taking a fatal dose of fentanyl that she thought was heroin.

The bill was amended several times during the legislative process last Thursday, clarifying that people who “share” drugs, as opposed to selling them, would not be charged with the new drug-induced homicide crime. The amendments addressed concerns that those suffering with substance abuse disorders would not be subject to criminal prosecution, and added the “Good Samaritan” clause for dealers who seek medical assistance for someone experiencing an overdose.

Kristen’s mother, Sue Coutu, has been a strong proponent of the bill. She testified in favor of the measure, saying her daughter struggled with opiate addiction prior to he death, but she wanted to recover.

In a statement to Eyewitness News, Sue Coutu thanked everyone who helped in the passage of the bill.

“It has special meaning for me as it honors the life of my daughter, and those whose lives have been lost to overdose at the hands of a drug dealer or trafficker,” she wrote. “My sincere hope is that this law helps to prevent the loss of lives, and the pain and suffering of their loved ones.”

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin expressed “deep gratitude” to Sue Coutu, who allowed the law to be named after her daughter.

“Through Sue, we have had the distinct pleasure of getting to know Kristen as the loving and caring young person she was,” Kilmartin said.  “Nothing can ever fill the empty space in Sue’s heart left by the murder of her daughter.  Yet, I hope she can take some comfort in knowing that Kristen’s story helped pass the necessary statute to give police and prosecutors the tools they need to hold drug dealers and drug traffickers who sell fatal drugs criminally liable.”

The House version of the bill, sponsored by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, was approved by state representatives last week.

The legislation now heads to Gov. Gina Raimondo’s desk. Her press secretary tells Eyewitness News she plans to sign it.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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