WV Senate passes bill toughening sentences for dealers in fatal ODs


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — The West Virginia Senate passed a bill Thursday that would impose a stiff sentence on anyone convicted of delivering or dispensing of illegal drugs that lead to a fatal overdose.

The legislation (SB 220) would mandate a 10- to 40-year prison sentence for someone found guilty of knowingly and willfully delivering a controlled substance that causes the death of its user.

Additionally, the bill imposes a separate, lighter sentence on anyone who administers illegal drugs to another without taking any money for the drugs or displaying intent to kill. That offense calls for a felony conviction and sentence of between three to five years under the bill.

The legislation passed via unanimous vote.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said he drafted it to hold dealers and distributors responsible when their actions lead to a death — intentional or not.

“This bill is similar to legislation in five other states around the country, which hold individuals accountable for delivering drugs to people within the state,” he said.

No senators spoke in opposition to the bill, although Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, sought to clarify one point.

He asked Weld what would happen to a marijuana dealer if a potential victim were to use the dealer’s marijuana in conjunction with another, more dangerous drug from another dealer, leading to a fatal overdose.

Weld responded, saying the legislation is designed to only go after the drug directly responsible for the death, not another substance used simultaneously.

However, the text of the bill states any person who delivers a controlled substance used “alone or in combination with one or more other controlled substances, proximately causes the death of a person” could be charged.

In a follow-up interview, Weld said in the event of a fatal overdose with multiple drugs in the victim’s system, the dealer of the drug that led to the overdose would be culpable under the new bill, not the dealer of another drug that did not lead to an overdose.

According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths in the U.S. in 2015. West Virginia led the nation in fatal overdose rates, with 41.5 per 100,000 residents dying from an opioid overdose that same year.

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