A California prosecutor says he has secured the state's first murder conviction in connection with a fatal fentanyl overdose, the New York Times reports. District Attorney Morgan Gire of Placer County said that a 21-year-old man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for providing fentanyl to a 15-year-old girl who died shortly after consuming it in June 2022. The prosecution is being closely watched in law enforcement and legislative circles in California, which lost 6,000 people to fentanyl and other opioids in 2021. Prosecutors have been looking for ways to hold people distributing the drug accountable for the staggering death toll. Some lawmakers have expressed concern about a return to the aggressive drug prosecutions of decades ago, which resulted in dealers and users languishing in prisons.
“I have heard the criticism that this is a retread of the war on drugs,’’ Gire said. “It isn’t. Fentanyl is something different.” Many of the fatalities caused by fentanyl are happening because the victims are unaware that the drug they are using contains the deadly opioid. Gire sought to prove that the defendant knew that the Percocet pills he provided to the girl contained fentanyl and that he knew “how deadly it was.” The defendant provided her with the pills, watched her die after taking them, walked away and then sold more of the drugs to others, Gire said. Overdoses are now a leading cause of death among Americans. Synthetic opioids contributed to 75,000 overdose deaths in 2022, with fentanyl accounting for most of them.