Medical professionals are urging Governor Gina Raimondo to veto legislation that would strengthen criminal penalties for drug dealers.
The legislation, introduced at the request of state Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, would create a criminal penalty of up to life in prison for drug dealers in cases of fatal overdoses.
“This particular bill is misdirected,’’ Dr. Josiah “Jody” Rich, a professor at Brown University’s medical school and an expert advisor to the governor’s overdose-prevention task force. “It’s not going to do what it purports to do, which is take out drug kingpins and interrupt drug markets to the point where it will decrease overdose deaths. So I would urge her not to support it…”
But Raimondo has said publicly that she supports the legislation. “The first course of action to deal with the opioid and drug crisis is prevention and treatment….and we’re doing a lot around that,’’ she said Friday, according to a recording provided by her press secretary, Josh Block. “Having said that, this is a crisis. We’ve lost over 1,000 people to drug overdoses. This law has been amended. So it doesn’t require a life sentence but it’s an option for the judge….I think the judges need to have this discretion because this could save lives…”
A revised version of the bill passed by the Senate last week would mandate a sentence of "up to" life in prison for convicted drug dealers in cases of a fatal overdose.
Rhode Island law currently mandates life sentences in those cases involving the overdose death of a minor.
Rich and other public health professionals – including the former state health director, Dr. Michael Fine – spoke out against the legislation at a news conference Monday.
A companion House bill is scheduled for a vote Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill -- named Kristen’s Law -- is named after Kristen Coutu, a 29-year-old Cranston resident who died of an overdose in 2014.