WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (AP) _ A county coroner in Pennsylvania has started ruling heroin overdose deaths as homicides, saying drug dealers are murderers.
Lycoming County Charles Kiessling Jr. had been marking overdose deaths as accidental, which he called standard practice, but said he’s trying to raise awareness of a heroin epidemic that contributed to a 13 percent increase in overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in one year.
“If you chose to sell heroin, you’re killing people and you’re murdering people. You’re just as dead from a shot of heroin as if someone puts a bullet in you,” Kiessling told The Daily Item of Sunbury.
He has ruled one overdose death in 2016 as a homicide, with four others pending the results of toxicology testing.
Homicide is defined as a death caused by another person. Not all homicides are determined to be crimes, and the decision on whether charges should be filed is made by prosecutors.
Pennsylvania law allows for a charge of drug delivery resulting in death, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 40 years in prison. But Lycoming County District Attorney Eric Linhardt said the cases are difficult to prove.
“In fact, we have been able to prosecute only a handful of such cases with varying degrees of success,” said Linhardt, adding that his office will “continue to aggressively prosecute these cases where we are able.”
Kiessling said he consulted with the solicitor for the Pennsylvania State Coroners Association, of which he is president, and determined that nothing in state law prevented him from making a determination of homicide in heroin overdose cases. He said he won’t change procedure for opioids like oxycodone if the victim has a valid prescription.
Nationally, since 2000, there has been a 200 percent spike in the rate of overdose deaths from opioid pain relievers and heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kiessling said the heroin problem “doesn’t seem to be raising enough eyebrows” in Lycoming, a largely rural county in north-central Pennsylvania that plays host to the Little League World Series each August.
“Calling these accidents is sweeping it under the rug,” he said.
Information from: The Daily Item, http://www.dailyitem.com