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Continued: Minnesota heroin summit backs aggressive measures

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 5, 2014 - 11:07 AM

More police departments are now investigating heroin death overdoses as homicides, going after the dealer or person who gave drugs to the victim. The charge is felony third-degree murder, which means the person unintentionally caused a death by either giving or selling the drug. Such cases are difficult to charge, however, because of uncooperative witnesses and a mixture of drugs in the victim’s system.

Last March, Minneapolis police were able to get their first heroin-related third-degree murder case charged. Washington County has charged 10 heroin cases since 2012, relying on cellphones and Facebook to provide evidence.

Medical professionals talked about how addiction to prescription painkillers continues to drive the increase in heroin use. The pills are often stolen from medicine cabinets at home and lead to stronger drugs like heroin. Doctors suggested that ways other than pills need to be found to manage pain.

Near the end of the four-hour summit, there was a candid debate on whether somebody who witnesses an overdose should be immune from prosecution if they call 911. A new state law, part of Steve’s Law, which permits first-responder use of Narcan, allows limited immunity in such cases.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who has more than 20 deputies trained to use Narcan, said he sees merits on both sides of the issue.

“Bottom line is that we are in the business to save lives,” he said. “It’s a public policy issue.”

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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