In the Same Room as an Overdose Victim? How You Could Be Held Liable

2 min


So, you thought you were just having a house party. But somebody overdosed and now, you might be charged with murder? This scenario is hard to fathom, yet entirely possible.

People are entertaining at home more often, and unfortunately, some partygoers don’t know where to draw the line. Yes, you can be charged, even when the death was unintentional. If you were in the same room with someone who took an accidental overdose and subsequently passed away, it could be considered your fault legally.

Laws vary from state to state, but delivering or distributing drugs is not only limited to selling them. These terms can be an umbrella for giving drugs away, sharing them, or purchasing drugs and then having a partygoer pay you back.

New Laws Enacted in 2019: Homicide Charges Following an Overdose

Increasingly, accidental overdoses are treated as homicides, and the people who provided the drugs are charged with manslaughter or murder. North Carolina’s new Death by Distribution law treats such an overdose as second-degree homicide. The charge carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison for a class B2 felony.

The legislators behind the bill, including Governor Roy Cooper, hope that the tough measure will curb the opioid epidemic. But critics of the new Death by Distribution Act fear that the law could prevent people from seeking help when someone has overdosed. Good Samaritan laws are also on the books in North Carolina.

911 Good Samaritan legislation states that anyone who witnesses an overdose can seek help for the victim and will not be prosecuted for possession of a small amount of drugs or paraphernalia. The measure is meant to encourage people to call 911, and seek medical help for overdose victims without fear of legal repercussions. But some legislators have expressed concern that North Carolina’s recent law will increase fear, and deter bystanders from calling for assistance.

How Social Media Plays a Role

With everyone on Facebook or SnapChat, prosecutors are making easy work of getting convictions. There have been cases where the person reporting the overdose may have not even touched the money that transferred hands during the drug deal, but used messenger or some other app to make all of the arrangements. In legal terms, that person is party to a crime, which puts them at risk for being convicted of reckless homicide.

Most overdose deaths are attributed to opioids. In many cases, these drugs are prescribed by a doctor, and may induce the addiction that follows the substance’s legal medical use.

Opioid FAQs

  • Between 1999 through 2016, more than 12,000 North Carolina residents died from overdoses related to opioids, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • It’s estimated that 79% of overdose deaths were opioid-related in 2018.
  • The number of unintentional overdose deaths involving opioids more than doubled in the past 10 years, according to the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics.
  • In 2017, North Carolina released it’s Opioid Action Plan to combat the crisis.

Protecting Your Legal Rights

If you are socializing, and somebody in the room dies from an overdose, it’s imperative to protect your legal rights by calling a criminal lawyer. Attorneys at the Chetson Firm are experienced with overdose laws.

The rules have changed, and what may have been true a few years ago, may not hold true now. Don’t rely on the advice of friends or hearsay from others. If you suspect you could be charged with a serious crime, the first thing to do is call a competent attorney.

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