JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Cordie Rodenbaugh recalls a conversation with her son Parker towards the end of Parker’s freshman year at college. They spoke about their future after he had decided to transfer to Mississippi State University to study Architecture.
She said that he said to her, “Mama, I just want the world to be better.”
Parker, who was 22 years old when he died, died from the effects of 25b-NB0me or “synthetic LSD,” which he had taken at a party. He suffered violent convulsions. Two of Parker’s acquaintances testified that they sought medical attention after he turned blue and stopped breathing.
His death led to the prosecution of a drug dealer in Mississippi for murder in a drug-related killing. Skylar O’Kelly was convicted in 2016 of drug trafficking and second-degree murder. He was sentenced to two concurrent 10-year sentences. However, a state appeals court overturned O’Kelly’s murder conviction in 2018, finding that there was not enough evidence to support the charge. O’Kelly was subsequently resentenced for drug trafficking and is currently in state custody.
Rodenbaugh, who lost her son to an overdose in 2012, has dedicated her life to helping families whose loved ones have died from a drug overdose. Since synthetic opioids have been a major cause of death in Mississippi in recent years, Rodenbaugh has trained Narcan in her own home. However, her main focus is lobbying for stricter laws to hold drug distributors responsible for overdose deaths.
Attempts at passing such laws failed until this year when the state legislature passed HB 607 (also known as Parker’s Law) in March. Mississippi Governor. Tate Reeves signed the bill on April 19.
The previous versions were criticized by mental health advocates, who feared that it would criminalize an already vulnerable population and discourage people from seeking treatment, leading to more overdose deaths.
The new Law targets specifically the sale of fentanyl. If the drug distribution results in overdose death, a person could be sentenced to 20 years or more in prison. The Law goes into effect July 1.
Law doesn’t allow drug users to be charged with sharing drugs that result in overdoses or seeking medical attention for overdose victims.
Nick Bain, a state representative, said that the Law was created with input from mental-health experts and allows prosecutors to pursue this type of crime.
He said, “And I believe that it is a crime.” “I believe the bill is too narrow and targeted at fentanyl. It targets addicts and people who want to exploit them.”
During the pandemic, drug overdose deaths rose dramatically. According to CDC data, more than 100,000 deaths from drug overdoses in the United States will be in 2020. Five hundred eighty-six of those were Mississippians.
According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, deaths involving fentanyl rose from 139 in 2019 and 313 in 2020. Nearly half of these deaths were caused by multiple substances, and nearly a third of them involved people under 35.
According to Col. Steven Maxwell of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, the main cause of the crisis in Mississippi and nationwide is the availability and prevalence of illicit fentanyl. He said that, unlike pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl, it could be cut and colored and scored to be used as a counterfeit drug for Oxycodone or Ritalin.
Fentanyl can be extremely deadly and is 50 times more potent than heroin. Maxwell stated that two milligrams of fentanyl are essentially a fatal dose.
This amount is equivalent to approximately 15 to 20 granulates of salt.
In collaboration with state health officials, Maxwell’s agency is responding to the crisis.
When we speak to high school students, we try to convince them that it isn’t just marijuana. It could also be marijuana-laced in fentanyl and other synthetic drugs. He said that many retail-level sellers, who sell small quantities of marijuana, don’t know the exact product they are selling.
Although drug overdose murder convictions are rare, more states have begun to look at laws that would make drug distributors accountable.
According to Temple University’s Prescription Drug Abuse Policy System, 25 states have some form of drug-induced murder law in place as of 2019. There are a variety of charges, ranging from capital murder to manslaughter. Each state has a different sentence.
The O’Kelly murder case in Mississippi was the first to include drug trafficking and murder charges. Carlos Allen, a Jackson resident, was sentenced to 124 years without parole for drug trafficking last month. This resulted in Carlos’s overdose death in 2021.
These cases are not the only exceptions.
The 1980s saw the first drug-induced homicide laws. Drug policy experts have criticized them for criminalizing vulnerable drug users rather than focusing on drug distributors.
Angela Mallette, the founder of the Mississippi Harm Reduction Initiative, a group that promotes health-based solutions to people with addiction, stated that often these laws don’t have the intended effect and cause more harm.
She said that passing these laws increases the fear of drug users calling for help. It does not reduce the number of drug-using people. People will still use the substance they depend on. If someone overdoses, they could be charged with murder. It just leads to more deaths in such situations.
Parker’s Law will provide safety nets, but a committee non-partisan of the Mississippi legislature must evaluate and report on how many people are being prosecuted each year under its provisions.
She said, “This will allow us to observe how the law is being applied and whether it has resulted in any harmful practices.”