As the opioid “epidemic” continues to be the driver of drug hysteria, and the drug dealers who sell to people who overdose are prosecuted not as dealers, but as murderers, the concept of murder continues to expand. First, it went from dealer to sharer. Now, an introduction to a connection is all it takes.
But Jamie Nelson, 34, was not the dealer who provided the fentanyl and heroin that killed Tracy Skornika in June. According to police, Skornika gave Nelson $50 to help her to find a heroin connection. Nelson took her to a dealer she apparently knew. Skornika overdosed and was found on her bathroom floor. She was pronounced dead three hours later at a hospital.
There’s nothing is this story that even suggests that Nelson wanted her friend dead. The Orlando Sentinel report on the case notes that Nelson cried when she found out Skornika had died.
That Nelson felt terrible, even cried, isn’t a defense to a murder. But then, that doesn’t answer the question of how her doing as a friend asked, introducing Skornika to her dealer, turns out to be a murder either.
As was learned in the Crack “Epidemic” of the 80s, fear and loathing are a strong driver for criminal laws to be used in imaginative ways, but people seem to be relatively good with it as long as it only applies to people they despise. After all, it would never be used against the “good” folks. That was the rationale for civil asset forfeiture, to “take the profit out of crime” for crack dealers, since it was meant for drug dealers, and hotel owners weren’t drug dealers.
A similar slide in the definition of murder happened with drunk driving, where the murder charges were grounded in a depraved indifference toward life. Conceptually, it was a problem, as there was nothing remotely resembling intent and the crime was committed at the time a person became drunk and turned the ignition key in his car. Everything that happened after that was purely fortuitous. Most people made it home to sleep it off. A few killed someone along the way. It was purely a matter of luck after the conduct of drunk driving was initiated.
Drug dealers certainly don’t want to kill their customers. It’s bad for business. And the business is bad, but where there is demand, there will be supply. The act of selling drugs is certainly distant from the unfortunate end product of an overdose, and further still from the overdose that ends in death. It’s attenuated. There is an intervening event. No one forces a junkie to use the fentanyl she bought. The dealer isn’t the one who pushed her to shoot too much. His interest ended with her handing over the money. It doesn’t make him a swell guy, but does it make him her killer?
But for someone like Nelson, whose involvement was to fulfill a friend’s request, make an introduction so that the friend, whose desire for drugs existed independently of Nelson, could exercise her own independent choice to engage in conduct that was dangerous, and in this case, deadly, it could mean the death penalty.
It’s an absurd upending of justice to think someone should be indicted for first-degree murder without intending to kill anybody. But Florida’s drug war is so focused on punishment that prosecutors and lawmakers don’t even care about intent. Nelson could face the death penalty if she’s convicted.
Granted, Nelson could face the death penalty just for using, no less for steering, but then it would at least be by her own choice and hand. It’s not that Nelson should win “friend of the year” for aiding Skornika in getting her hands on drugs, but we already have laws prohibiting, and punishing, the full panoply of drug-related conduct. Murder had no place in that paradigm but for a terrible overdose and death.
But there remains quite a bit of slippery slope left to slide. As has been well-known by everybody except the government, the foremost pushers of opioids aren’t guys on street corners, but guys in bespoke suits in Big Pharma C-suites. As this Harvey Weinstein-level secret is coming to light, what about the ODs they caused?
Our policy was: You get 15 people hooked on opioids, and you’re a thug who deserves to rot in hell; you get 150,000 people hooked, and you’re a marketing genius who deserves a huge bonus.
It was their pushing that shifted the path of junkies.
It used to be in America that people became addicted to opioids through illegal drugs. In the 1960s, for example, 80 percent of Americans hooked on opioids began with heroin.
That has completely changed. Today, 75 percent of people with opioid addictions began with prescription painkillers. The slide starts not on a street corner, but in a doctor’s office.
If steering a person to the source of their killer drug is murder, what does that make the health insurers, doctors, and the PR guys who put drug commercials on TV to begin your yearning for a fix?
It may well be impossible to directly attribute any particular overdose, any specific death, to a pharma exec, but as Nick Kristof channels the old Stalin rationale, the problem isn’t that they don’t do the same, but they do it too well.
When the elements of murder are satisfied by some attenuated chaos theory, despite there being neither purpose nor a direct hand in another human being’s death, the question becomes just how far away from the body a person has to be before they are no longer responsible for murder. For too many of these extended rationalizations, there is no edge beyond which the cries for retribution won’t go. In this instance, however, there’s a good chance that the murder charge will go no further than the threshold of Pharma corporate offices.