ln 2023 fentanyl and other synthetic opioids led to an average of 3,400 emergency room visits and 190 fatal overdoses each day in the U.S. What was once an obscure drug used to treat pain in end-stage cancer patients has become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. Now the debate in state capitols and courtrooms is over how to stop the crisis and whom to hold accountable for it, the New York Times reports. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law this month to reclassify fentanyl overdose deaths as “poisonings,” and Arkansas passed a “death by delivery” bill in April to charge some overdoses as murders in an effort to deter anyone from selling or even sharing fentanyl.
Prosecutors in Alaska, California, Florida and at least a dozen other states were beginning to pursue new murder cases against any defendant who fit under the wide-ranging definition of a fentanyl dealer: a 17-year-old in Tennessee who, after graduation, shared fentanyl in the school parking lot with two of her friends, both of whom died; a husband in Indiana who bought fentanyl for his disabled wife, who overdosed while trying to numb her chronic pain from multiple sclerosis; a real estate agent in Florida who threw a party and called 911 when one of her guests overdosed, and a high school senior in Missouri who gave one pill to a 16-year-old girl he met at church and warned her to “only do a quarter and then do the other quarter if you don’t feel it.”