Under pressure to respond to the nation’s fatal overdose crisis, prosecutors are increasingly treating accidental overdose deaths as homicides. Our data analysis has found that the incidence of these prosecutions is particularly high in the midwest and northeast regions of the United States.
We compiled news reports of “drug-induced homicide” (DIH) prosecutions nationwide, using big data analytics tools. In contrast to the stated intent to target major drug traffickers, our preliminary analysis found that a majority of prosecutions are being brought against individuals who are either low-level dealers, or are friends, family, and co-users of the overdose decedent.
There is no systematic empirical evidence that DIH prosecutions slow the sale of illegal drugs. On the contrary, they may well be counterproductive. Running at cross-purposes to 9-1-1 Good Samaritan laws, DIH prosecutions discourage witnesses to overdoses from calling 9-1-1 for fear that they will be arrested and charged with DIH or other serious crimes. For those who are incarcerated and suffer from opioid addiction, there is an exponentially increased likelihood of death from overdose during the first weeks after release.
What We Are Doing
Gathering data on drug induced homicide cases by systematically collecting media stories since 2000
Filtering data to ensure only drug induced homicide level prosecutions are accounted for
Aggregating state DIH statutes to map the legal landscape
Modeling the impact of DIH prosecutions and laws on health and safety outcomes
Identifying new and proposed DIH legislation nationwide
Developing a toolkit for defense attorneys
Disseminating the toolkit directly to defense teams working on DIH cases, including trainings
Raising awareness about trends and implications of DIH prosecutions
Bringing attention to convicted DIH cases and post-conviction relief opportunities
HIJ Action Lab collaborates with Media Cloud in analyzing media infosphere for mentions of drug-induced homicide and similar prosecutions. We then code these prosecutions based on various demographic and other characteristics, and run basic summary statistics.
*An older version of the data set used a web scraping algorithm to identify these cases.
HIJ Action Lab has hand-coded a random subsample of online media articles for detailed information about relationships between individuals accused of drug-induced homicide and those who are deceased. We are in the process of calibrating our web-scraping algorithm to automate this process.
Leo Beletsky, Emma Rock, & Sunyou Kang, April 2022
State Approaches to Addressing the Overdose Epidemic: Public Health Focus Needed
Leo Beletsky Et al., 2019
10/20/21 DIH Toolkit Webinar
Defending Drug Overdose Homicides in Pennsylvania
November 6, 2019