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Bill Would Help Prosecute Drug Dealers Across Statelines For Overdoses

Flickr user / Victor "Handcuffs" (CC BY 2.0)

The Illinois General Assembly has approved legislation intended to make it easier to hold drug dealers accountable when their customers overdose.

After eight years in the Army, Evan Rushing had PTSD. One day last year, he drove to St. Louis to buy heroin. It was a bad batch; he overdosed and died.

Evan’s mother, Janice, said police identified the dealer who sold the drugs. Prosecutors couldn’t charge him with drug-induced homicide though, because Rushing bought the heroin in Missouri.

“There’s nothing worse than knowing that person is walking the streets and could do this again,” she says, “but now he can’t.”

The legislation won broad support in the General Assembly, with an emotional Rushing watching the vote.

Democratic Representative Katie Stuart of Edwardsville sponsored the bill.

“Heroin is bad in our area,” she said. “I know it’s bad all across our state. It’s really bad in Madison and St. Clair Counties. We need to fight it with all the tools possible.”

One of the opponents is Representative La Shawn Ford of Chicago. He says the legislation would not fight the rise of heroin and violent crime, and would instead lock up people unwittingly caught in the drug trade.

But the strategy of fighting drug use by prosecuting drug dealers has pitfalls. Studies show witnesses may not call 911 for an overdose because they fear being prosecuted themselves.

In Illinois, anti-drug laws have exceptions to encourage people to report overdoses.

The bill heads to the governor’s desk.

Tom reports on statehouse issues for NPR Illinois. He's currently a Public Affairs Reporting graduate program student at the University of Illinois Springfield. He graduated from Macalester College. Tom is from New York City where he also did stand-up and improv and wrote for the Awl and WNYC public radio.
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