Should I get even with the drug dealer who killed my brother?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on March 8th, 2009 - Last updated: November 21st, 2023
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Dear Stanton,

My 39 year old brother died of a heroin overdose. He was not alone at the time. The man doing heroin with him didn’t bother to call the authorities until 8 hours after my brother’s death. By then the man had cleaned up the room, got rid of the needles which he supplied (he was a diabetic) and all paraphernalia. He was with him in the room when he slumped to the floor. My brother NEVER sleeps on the floor. The man said he thought my brother was just going to sleep on the floor suddenly. The detectives don’t seem to want to bother with the case. Is there anything I can do to pressure them to investigate further? I believe this man saw my brother die and did nothing when he should have called the paramedics. He admitted to doing drugs with my brother but was not prosecuted. In addition, there was money missing from my brother’s room. Yet they let this man go out of state. What would you do?


Dear Sherry:

Like you, I would not rest, but (1) your brother did take the drugs that killed him on his own, (2) the law is very reluctant to charge someone for NOT doing something (are you aware of the case where one young man witnessed another take a young girl into a men’s room in a gambling casino, where he killed the girl, and the two young men went out gambling afterwards — with no legal consequences for the second young man, a UC Berkeley student?).

It is customary for people to shoot up together, and when one drops, for the others to abandon him/her, after robbing them — they figure, “he won’t need his stereo and money now — it’ll just go to his parents (or whoever) anyhow.” This is a good reason not to be a heroin addict — the kinds of people you end up associating with.

Carroll O’Connor (the star of the TV series, “All in the Family”) is one of many people who campaign to have the person who provided drugs to their son prosecuted (recall the efforts to do the same with Kathy Smith, who provided the drugs which John Belushi used to kill himself). I find this effort — which serves to locate the blame on one outside person for a lifetime of mistakes — immoral. Carroll O’Connor is relying on this slim reed to say that his son ruined his life because of someone other than himself and his son. I wouldn’t attack O’Connor because his son killed himself with drugs — but he is very foolish to obsess about one drug dealer after the series of failures he had with his son.

At the same time, if I felt someone I loved was harmed or wronged by someone, I would never rest. The police cannot be relied on to solve anything complicated. You must prod them daily, and/or bring a civil suit against the other individual to recover the stolen property and make him pay. I take this approach in all enforcement/legal questions I deal with; you reminded me — I have to call the police right now to.


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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.


  • Sis says:

    Hi, I myself have lost my 40 year old brother 6 weeks ago to an overdose. I had no idea and dealing with this is the hardest thing I have ever gone through. We also lost our mom at 40 of Cancer. I struggle with the same situation and thoughts. I am upset with the people and friends in his life that gave home the drugs, but no one held a gun to his head to do them. I have had an agonizing 6 weeks, and have had a wide ranges of emotions. I have dug and uncovered a lot. What I have decided is if the toxicology report comes back with fentanyl I will not sit back, and do what it will take to make the dealers pay. If it comes back with the alcohol and drugs my brother did minus fentanyl I will leave them alone and let it be. I have struggle with doing the right thing and what my brother would want me to do, but that is what I have decided. Hopefully we will get the tox report back soon. This has been a complete nightmare, and his nervous friends are liars, sneaky, thieves, that all cover for each other. You are welcome to contact me. I hope that eventually you can remember the good and fun times.

  • NoOne says:

    Im so sorry for your loss. Ive also lost people I care deeply for. Ive herd first hand about very SIMILAR near EXACTLY the same situation of your brother and the person DOING drugs with him. Its either the one left alive being Scared or Too high himself to know or realize that the person theyer with is so DRUGGED and SLEEPY that they arrent actually asleep but rather they has stopped breathing. Its a very sad LOSS – these ones we love and miss so much. I do not know if this sounds MORBID or unfeeling/uncaring but please know its neither; It is meant as caring and not meant a morbid.
    When ine takes in the downer -heroin they are in a very sleepy calming place and then there body slows to a very very sleepy state and when they stop breathing There is NO PAIN and they just continue to sleep. Again nothing hurtful or morbid is meant by these things im saying just truth. When ine falls asleep after taking heroin they sleep and if its too much they dont awake but they do not suffer. I hope I haven hurt you worse by sharing these truths but instead have helped with this honesty and truism.
    Remeber….. We Never Die….. We Just Shed Gods Wrapping Paper. Though we miss them and cannot see them anymore we allways have our memories as solace for our grief

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