By Sue Ellen Woodcock
In 2015, when Stephen Deagle overdosed on fentanyl, there was no law making the dealer responsible for a deadly overdose and no law yet exists today.
That’s why State Rep. RoseLee Vincent has filed a bill called Stephen’s Law that would hold fentanyl drug dealers liable for selling to someone who later fatally overdoses. A public hearing on the amendment was held on July 18 before the Joint Committee of the Judiciary. The bill currently remains under consideration by the committee.
Twenty states in the country have similar fentanyl legislation, including New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.
“I filed this bill on behalf of my constituent and dear friend Debbie Deagle, and in memory of her beloved son Stephen, who tragically passed away from an overdose of fentanyl in 2015,” Vincent said. “The legislation seeks to charge fentanyl dealers with homicide when a buyer’s death results from the use of the fentanyl supplied by the dealer.”
Fentanyl is an opioid pain killer. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. In some forms fentanyl can be 10,000 times stronger.
“I whole-heartedly believe that if we stand up to fentanyl dealers by charging them with homicide if their buyers dies,” Vincent said. “People who deal in fentanyl may think twice before providing lethal doses to others.”
Deagle testified before the committee, sharing the story of her son and passionately pleading for “Stephen’s Law” to be passed. Stephen’s struggle began when his four wisdom teeth were extracted, chipping his jawbone. This began his long battle with prescription pain killers which led to his use of opiates, including fentanyl.
“He was probably the first person in Massachusetts to die from 100 percent pure fentanyl,” said his mother. “The numbers of deaths just keep going up.”
An Act to enact “Stephen’s Law”, relative to the distribution of fentanyl that results in death includes the following language: A person who unlawfully distributes fentanyl in violation of section 32A or 32F, or traffics in fentanyl in violation of section 32E, where a death results from the use of such fentanyl, shall be guilty of homicide by distribution of a controlled substance and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than 10 years and not more than 20 years and by a fine of not more than $25,000.
Deagle has worked with Sen. Ed Markey on opioid issues and after the July 18 hearing Deagle has captured the interest of State Rep. Claire Cronin of Easton and State Sen William Brownsberger of Belmont. Deagle plans further meetings with the legislators at the end of August.
“I also believe enactment of this legislation could play a pivotal role in curbing fentanyl-related overdose deaths because dealers will be more aware of the stringent consequences,” Vincent said. “Perhaps if this bill becomes law, and saves even one life, it could spare a mother like Debbie the pain and agony she has endured since losing her only child.”