Supplying drugs or manslaughter?

Supplying drugs or manslaughter?

In February this year a young Sydney woman was taken to hospital after collapsing at a house party in Warriewood the morning after attending a dance festival. She died later that day. PMA, or para-methoxyamphetamine, is thought to have caused her death. She apparently bought the drug, believing it to be ecstasy, from an acquaintance who is now facing two charges of supplying a prohibited drug.

In the UK there is currently discussion around whether further charges should be laid in these types of cases. When teenager Leah Betts became the UK’s first high profile ecstasy victim in 1995 (coincidentally just a few weeks after the death of a Sydney school girl under very similar circumstances), a manhunt was launched for the “poison pushers” who had killed her. When the dust had settled, two friends of the girl who had purchased the drug at her request stood trial. In the end, one was given a two-year conditional discharge, while the other walked free after a jury failed to reach a verdict.

What makes this situation even more difficult is that, as far as the general public is concerned, this is a black and white issue – people who use drugs buy them from evil drug dealers and pushers. However, anyone who has any contact with the drug scene knows that this is simply not the case – the drug scene is not neatly divided into evil dealers and innocent victims. Most people who use drugs actively seek out people who sell their drug of choice and often purchase them through friendship networks. Drug users rarely have drugs pushed onto them; in fact, they actively hunt them out.

In terms of the law, it is rare to see dealers (or friends or acquaintances) who have supplied drugs to be charged with manslaughter, as it is easier to secure a conviction for supply.

In the UK last year a man in his 20s was jailed for 14 months for supplying a younger work colleague, Dan Lee, with ecstasy. The “dealer” initially refused but eventually provided the tablets (at cost price – so there was no profit made) after repeated requests by the younger man. Subsequently, Lee died after taking eight tablets. Although many people did not believe that prison was the appropriate sentence, the man is still currently serving time. In an explanation of the sentence he handed down, the judge was reported as saying the following:

“This is case of a single supply by someone who had been repeatedly asked to supply and said no, but then, perhaps because he is easygoing, pleasant and likes to be liked, he said yes.” His barrister is reported as saying, “This is someone who, on one occasion, did something idiotic which has had catastrophic consequences.”

Although many people disregard the legal consequences of illicit drug use, for many it is this area that will result in the most devastating impact on their lives. Finding yourself facing supply charges, or possibly even manslaughter charges, for getting a couple of ecstasy pills for a friend is simply something that people never think about.

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use the drug and, no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blasé.

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