Who is responsible for heroin overdoses?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on December 13th, 2010 - Last updated: June 28th, 2019
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I just read your reply to Sherry whose brother died of a heroin overdose. “Should I get even with the drug dealer who killed my brother?” Your response says that he took the drugs himself … this is true. However, this is not the issue. The issue is that someone else sat there and knew he was dying. Just because someone is a drug addict gives them no excuse to watch someone else die. Just because her brother was a drug addict does not mean that his death is less important than someone else. The same thing happened to my brother and there were two people in his presence who ‘watched him die’. I think these people should be prosecuted because they have a responsibility to human life, whether they are junkies or not. I am tired of hearing “well if he didn’t associate himself with junkie losers he wouldn’t be dead.” I know what the law is in here in NY, but in Florida they are very different. In a situation like this, these people can be charged with culpable negligence and spend some 15 years or more in jail. There was a case just like this where the son of a detective was sentenced to 15 years for watching his friend die. So, there is justice, just not everywhere. Should Sherry get even’ with the people who killed her brother? Well …. only if she doesn’t get caught. Good luck Sherry.



I sympathize with Sherry and her dead brother. Really, who should we blame for his and your brother’s death? (By the way, Sherry was principally concerned with the dealer who sold her brother his drugs, not the fellow addicts who might have used with him.)

Often, an addict who become comatose when using (and my work indicates this is very rarely due to “overdose”, meaning taking too intense a dose of the narcotic) will often die as a result of other addicts stranding him or her.

True, these people are often not the most responsible and prosocial people. But the reason they don’t call the police or an emergency squad or deposit the individual at the hospital is because they’re afraid for their own pathetic skins. And who can blame them? They have been committing a crime, and are liable for the consequences. Obviously, they are additionally worried that they can be implicated in the stricken person’s death, if it amounts to that, as you proudly point to in Florida and other states.

Thus, what are the remedies for acute heroin and related drug poisoning? One is to provide clean shooting rooms for addicts, and another is to instruct addicts that any calls for emergency assistance will not result in punishment of those present. Remember, these drug users are human beings, as you indicate, and usually those at the bottom of the social totem pole. Those responsible for making our drug laws are those on the top. Shouldn’t they have more sense?


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.


  • Mom says:

    I’m at a loss here. My son was found dead on the front dirty grass lot after being given a lethal dose of heroin. Cop says they were called anonymously and told a known junkie was dying or already dead at the address, and hung up. Cops didn’t bother tracing the call. Interviews were done with two living where my son was found. The guy, I found out by ASKING (they didn’t even feel it was my BUSINESS to know his name!). I knew this punk’s name. Known by those my son did drugs with (yes, he was an addict who smoked heroin for 5 months until it killed him) as the “needle guy” who provided needles to IV drug users. He also had the moniker because he would inject those who wanted the high that IV administration gives that is better than smoking. The most common form of heroin here in Phoenix, Arizona is called ” black tar”, a gummy, sticky form of the drug that comes over the border from Mexico. Snorting it is impossible. So it is smoked on tin foil, or “shot up”. My son couldn’t inject himself (all of his drug buddies told me that). When I read the coroner’s report, two tiny needle marks were found between two fingers on his right hand, with one in the crook of his right arm. Funny thing, though. My son was truly and only RIGHT HANDED. Interesting? I thought so. And by the way: per the coroner, my son bore no ” track marks ” typically found on IV junkies. Bottom line ? My 21 year old, my only son, wore a T-shirt thats back was shredded from, I believe, from being dragged onto that spot, where he was covered in dirt, grass, and who had become a 6′ tall, 240 pound feast for the ants that were transported along with my son in the body bag to the morgue, again, per the final coroner’s report. It also read that he died by accidental overdose. The cop, from the Phoenix PD’s “Violent Crime” unit told me, after telling him that my son did NOT do this to himself, “I’m sorry, ma’am. This is just another case of a junkie who ODed and died. No investigation was begun. No arrests were made. Oh, and ” the needle guy left town.

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