Amended bill gives courts discretion in sentencing, preserves Good Samaritan immunity
Administration remains committed to prevention, treatment and recovery
PROVIDENCE, RI - Governor Gina M. Raimondo signed an amended version of the so-called Kristen's Law bill earlier today which will aid in the prosecution of drug traffickers whose drugs cause fatal overdoses. The administration worked with law enforcement, the Attorney General's Office, recovery advocates and medical professionals to dramatically improve the original version of the bill.
The version that the Governor signed today is narrowly tailored, gives judges discretion in sentencing, does not include mandatory minimum sentences, and only targets drug dealers who are profiting on a public health crisis. Thanks to amendments supported by the administration, the bill also ensures Good Samaritan immunity to those who seek help for someone who overdoses and will not be used to prosecute people living with addiction.
"The overdose epidemic is the most urgent public health crisis facing Rhode Island. Over the last several years, we've brought every stakeholder together to develop and implement a comprehensive approach to combat this crisis. Our strategy to end the opioid crisis has always and will always primarily focus on public health strategies," said Governor Raimondo. "I recognize the concerns some have raised about this legislation and this has been a difficult decision. In making my decision, I've spoken at length with parents and others who have lost loved ones to this crisis and I believe that narrowly tailored public safety tools like Kristen's Law can help law enforcement take those selling lethal opioids off the streets and ensure that significant drug dealers who are getting rich off this crisis can be prosecuted for the deaths their products cause."
The Governor submitted a transmittal letter along with her signature that explains in detail the changes made to the original proposal and provided additional information about the Administration's comprehensive approach to combat the overdose crisis. That transmittal letter is available in the links below.
"I applaud Governor Raimondo for recognizing the need for Kristen's Law as we continue to battle the opioid crisis in our state. After the prosecution of Aaron Andrade for the murder of Kristen Coutu, it became apparent the statute needed clarification going forward to successfully prosecute those who knowingly deliver deadly substances, like fentanyl, that result in the death of another. Kristen's Law gives police and prosecutors the tools necessary to effectively hold drug traffickers accountable for murder, and also provides greater protections to individuals who suffer from substance use disorders by expanding the Good Samaritan Law to those who are caught in the vicious cycle of abuse," said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin. "Just this week, Providence Police arrested three individuals for operating a major fentanyl trafficking ring and seized drugs with a street value of one million dollars. If not for the great work by the police, there is no question those drugs would have ended up on our streets, potentially leading to overdose fatalities. It is this criminal activity that Kristen's Law is intended to stop."
"I would like to sincerely thank Governor Raimondo for supporting and signing Kristen's Law. This law brings a heightened awareness of the consequences for those who deliver and traffic illegal substances, yet protects the Good Samaritan Law. My sincere wish is that no parent will ever again experience the devastating loss of a child due to the actions of a drug dealer," said Suzanne Coutu.
"My son thought he was buying heroin, but was sold fentanyl in its place. The dealer knew what he was selling and how deadly it was, but did not care about my son, or any of his other buyers. The seller is a murderer, killing for profit with opiates and synthetic substitutes. I support Kristen's Law and I would like to thank Governor for signing it today. It's time to hold drug dealers responsible for their actions and give law enforcement as much support as possible," said Eric Minteer whose son Alex was only 29 when he died from a fentanyl overdose in 2017.
More than 650 Rhode Islanders died of a drug overdose in the past two years. Early in her term, Governor Raimondo established the Overdose Prevention Task Force. Under her leadership, the state has opened more than 10 new walk-in treatment centers in communities across the state and invested $3.3 million through Medicaid to support peer recovery services and Centers of Excellence. Rhode Island is the first state in America to screen all inmates for opioid use disorder and provide medication-assisted treatment for inmates in the ACI, an initiative that helped reduce post-incarceration overdose deaths by 61 percent. This comprehensive plan has been recognized by the National Governor's Association and other organizations as the national model to address the overdose crisis.
This year, the legislature passed a wide range of bills with the Governor's support designed to expand Rhode Island's public health response to the opioid and addiction crisis, including:
• Mental health parity; • Partial fill prescriptions; • Expanded Naloxone access and measures to support naloxone distribution • Fentanyl testing; • Good Samaritan immunity for alcohol; and • Multi-disciplinary overdose review to better inform overdose response strategies.