Intentionally administering, selling or distributing a controlled substance to another person is a first-degree felony in Pennsylvania if the other person dies as a result of using it. The name of the charge is death by delivery, and despite a lack of intent to cause harm on the alleged dealer’s part, it essentially amounts to a murder charge.
Lancaster County does not have the highest number of overdose deaths in the state. That would be York County with 42 over five years from 2013 to 2017. However, because York County’s records do not list the charges filed, Lancaster leads the state in death by delivery charges related to 36 overdose deaths.
The maximum possible sentence for death by delivery conviction is 40 years. However, no one in Lancaster County has received a sentence that long as yet. The longest death by delivery sentences have been five years, while the shortest have been a few months. The number of people affected and the alleged dealer’s history are factors that may affect sentence length.
The district attorney asserts that the goal of death by delivery charges is ultimately to save lives. He claims that information obtained from people facing the charges helps to take drugs off the street. Earlier this year, information gathered during a death by drug delivery investigation reportedly led to the confiscation of two pounds of Fentanyl, one of the largest ever accomplished.
“Part of the solution”
The district attorney acknowledges that prosecution alone is not enough to stem the drug epidemic, citing a need for education, long-term treatment and outreach prevention. However, he feels that prosecuting and convicting on death by delivery charges brings closure to the victims’ families by holding alleged dealers responsible.
However, not everyone agrees that this approach is the best. Others recognize that many of the people facing death by delivery charges are addicts themselves trying to obtain the necessary funds to purchase the drugs; selling has become a way to get that money. Those who face death by delivery charges may become addicted in the first place because of over-prescription of medication for an injury or illness.
In other words, the people facing death by delivery charges may be victims themselves.