A bill before the Maryland General Assembly would impose a prison sentence up to 30 years on anyone convicted of selling or providing heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil or other opioid to a minor that results in the minor’s death.
Harford Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler testified Tuesday before the House Judicial Committee on behalf of the HB-649 sponsored by Del. Teresa Reilly, chair of the Harford delegation.
This bill creates a crime for the direct or indirect distribution of an opioid or opioid analogue, the use of which causes the death of a minor, a maximum penalty for which could be 30 years imprisonment. Under the bill, distribution includes the sharing of an opioid or opioid analogue by an adult.
Before the hearing, Gahler, Reilly and Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly were joined for a press conference in Annapolis by Mark and Nancy Jones, whose daughter, Amber, was 17 when she died from a drug overdose in 2016.
“It’s so important to protect the children. They’re so young, they’re vulnerable and they can be easily manipulated and I just think we need to do everything we can to give them a fighting chance and help law enforcement do their job, which is to fight against the heroin epidemic,” Nancy Jones said at the press conference, which was streamed on Facebook. “It’s sad, a tragedy, a loss we have to deal with every day. I just hope something can be done to protect the children.”
By sponsoring House Bill 649, Reilly said, she is representing the minor children of Maryland, hoping to deter individuals from selling, distributing or otherwise providing heroin to fentanyl to “vulnerable children” under 18 years old.
“While a drug dealer may not have the slightest concern about who they sell drugs to, this bill will and shall make them think twice before distributing a deadly controlled substance to the minor,” Reilly said.
The bill makes it a crime to distribute an opioid or analog to use which causes death of a minor, she said.
Gahler said he has testified the last couple years before the General Assembly about similar bills that were not passed.
This year, the bill has the support of the full Harford delegation and of Cassilly, Gahler said.
“When an adult uses their position and experience to … distribute heroin or an opioid to our young people, to minors under age of 18, I can’t think of anything more egregious in this whole heroin fight than doing that, and when the distribution results in the loss of life, like we had in the Jones family,” Gahler said. “We hope to take more aggressive steps in heroin fight and put some more penalties to act as deterrents to get people thinking twice about when they’re selling, especially when they’re targeting our most vulnerable population.”
The bill also provides protection to a person providing the drug to the minor if evidence for prosecution is only obtained because the provider sought or provided medical assistance to the person overdosing.
In Amber Jones’s case, the person providing the drug saw “almost right away,” Reilly said, that Jones was suffering, and they could have taken her to the hospital immediately.
It was not clear if anyone was ever charged in connection with supplying the heroin Jones overdosed on.
“We encourage people, if this happens, please do the right thing. You made the wrong decision first, now make the right decision and take them to get medical help and medical assistance,” Reilly said. “It’s very possible in this case they could have saved her life, even though in the beginning their intentions were wrong just by giving her and selling her the drugs.”