Tennessee bill would hold drug suppliers responsible in overdose deaths

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Law enforcement officials are trying to curb the heroin epidemic here in Tennessee.

Several are behind a bill that would impose tougher penalties on illegal opioid and prescription drug suppliers.

House Bill 786 would allow law enforcement to charge illegal suppliers with voluntary manslaughter when they cause death to a user by unlawfully distributing or delivering controlled substances to them.

“The path that we’re going down right now is not working,” Sergeant Jim Vaughn with the Hendersonville Police Department told News 2.

Sgt. Jim Vaughn with the Hendersonville Police Department (Photo: WKRN)

Vaughn is among those that helped write the language of the bill.

“What we are trying to do is not to incarcerate people. We would love if no one was ever incarcerated by this, but if we send a message to these people who are providing heroin to people who are in turn dying from it, and we stop that, the disaster would be a huge effect,” he explained to News 2.

Currently, Tennessee’s murder statute specifies a schedule I or schedule II narcotic as being the proximate cause of death.

Undercover narcotics agent Don Hardin is passionate about changing it.

“Our intention is not to target drug addicts. Those people have already suffered. It’s to provide a deterrent or to hold accountable the traffickers who profit from misery and death of other people,” Hardin explained.

(Information from Hendersonville Police Department)

A local family who lost their oldest son, Jonathan, to an overdose prays the bill is passed.

“Maybe it would help somebody else not have to go through the heartaches that we’ve had to go through,” Denise McLaughlin said.

On July 12, Jonathan was discovered in his work truck slumped over after he didn’t show up for his son’s fifth birthday party.

“He had a lethal dose of heroin. He had a lethal dose of Opanas,” his father Ray McLaughlin told News 2.

Jonathan McLaughlin’s parents, Denise and Ray (Photo: WKRN)

When more than one drug is in the system, it’s known as a polydrug death, said Agent Hardin.

“There is no vehicle to deal with polydrug deaths currently,” the agent explained.

He went on to say he knows who dealt Jonathan the drugs that killed him and wants the dealer to face voluntary manslaughter charges.

“Because there was more than one drug in this young man’s toxicology, because there is more than one drug and because the pathologist is unable to say that the heroin by itself would have resulted in the death, I can’t charge him,” Hardin told News 2.

“He leaves behind children and a grieving family, and we did our jobs. We know who sold it. We know where it came from, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it,” the agent continued.

Jonathan McLaughlin

State Rep. Mary Littleton, of Humphreys County, recently introduced the new legislation.

“Unfortunately, almost all of us know of someone whose life has been negatively affected by opioid or prescription drug abuse,” said Littleton.

She continued, “My hope is that this legislation will further reduce access to opioids and prescription drugs for Tennesseans and create a greater accountability for those who supply them.”

The bill passed in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday and was referred to the Criminal Justice Committee.