Carroll County mothers whose sons died from heroin or fentanyl overdoses emotionally testified Tuesday in support of legislation that would create a new law – distributors of heroin or fentanyl could be charged with homicide when a user of their supplied drug dies due to an overdose or other contributing factor.

Beth Schmidt of Sykesville, whose son died from a fentanyl overdose, said she believed the bill would deter distributors.


She carries a list of the victims of overdoses with her as she speaks out for prevention and awareness.

She gave testimony Tuesday to the House Judiciary Committee.

"We are incarcerating these dealers and they get probation after probation after probation," Schmidt said during her testimony. "These dealers need to be held accountable."

House Bill 222, and the cross-filed Senate Bill 303, states that if heroin or fentanyl is a "contributing cause" in the death of someone, the distributor of that drug could be tried for homicide with a sentence not exceeding 30 years. The law includes a good Samaritan provision which would be given immunity to those who "seeks, provides, or assists" with medical assistance regarding an overdose. As long as the prosecution was based solely on their efforts to provide assistance.

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill and supporters of the legislation said it would get dealers off the streets, although they admitted it isn't a "magic bullet" and still urged for treatment of users and prevention programs.

Federal law allows officials to hold dealers accountable for overdose deaths, but getting cases through the busy federal courts is tough, supporters said.

Opponents felt the bill didn't address the real problem of encourage and providing treatment and would only serve to imprison more people. Maura Taylor, who grow up in Severna Park, testified against the legislation, saying it doesn't "address the overdose problem."

Taylor said her daughter is battling an addiction to heroin.

"It will fold in the wrong people," Taylor said in her testimony. "The problem has been identified; we have an overdose problem in the state. This is not the solution."

Maryland has been battling what officials have called a heroin "epidemic." Heroin overdose deaths are up across the state with Carroll County having 13 heroin-related deaths through September of 2014. There were only two in 2011.

Anne Arundel County has suffered as well with 37 heroin related deaths through September 2014, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene data. The county peaked with 41 last year.

Overall the state's numbers are up. Through September 2014 there were 428 recorded heroin overdose deaths compared to 247 in 2011.

The overdose problem has been recognized by politicians and other officials as a serious issue and galvanizes both Democrats and Republicans.

Governor Larry Hogan announced he would place Maryland under a state of emergency to bring in federal money to combat the crisis and has sought support to combat the issue.


Anne Arundel County Steve Schuh instituted a county wide public health emergency. And first responders are using Narcan, a drug that helps those in the throes of an heroin overdose.

Supporters consisted of family members of those who died from overdoses, State's Attorneys from various counties, including Carroll, and the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and Maryland Sheriffs' Association.

Police and prosecutors argued in support of the bill because they felt the new crime would help them put away criminals who were distributing large volumes of the drug in their jurisdictions.

But the opposition cautioned that the legislation, as written, would loop in smaller criminals who may sell the drug to feed their own habit and that laws were already on the books to prosecute large scale distributors. They also raised concerns that money spent on imprisoning the dealers would take away money and resources for treatment and user relief.

"The emphasis absolutely needs to be on understanding the disease and providing adequate, accessible, affordable, high quality treatment," Taylor said. "I don't want my money spent on prosecutors or jails, I want my money spent on treatment."

"I hope they don't pass it."

The bill wasn't voted on – initial committee hearings don't typically feature a vote – and could be voted on in the future. The Senate version of the bill has a hearing scheduled for March 4 at 1 p.m. with the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Gina DeMaria of Westminster said she testified in support of the bill because some of the career dealers, who her son received heroin from and ultimately overdosed, have had prison time and it hasn't stopped them.

If that prison time was attached to a homicide charge, those dealers may have second thoughts.

"They were given a prison time," DeMaria said. "Nine times my son was in treatment. Every time he got out someone was looking for him ... you have to get rid of them."

"Just get one off the street; send one message. And that person they were dealing to has a chance."