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EXCLUSIVE: Chief State's Attorney proposing tougher drug penalties in the wake of fatal fentanyl overdose of Hartford teen

The proposal would allow drug-induced deaths to be prosecuted with a charge of 1st-degree manslaughter

ROCKY HILL, Conn. — Breaking details from the state’s top prosecutor. Chief State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo told FOX61 he thinks some of the state's current drug laws are too lax. He’s proposing a stiffer penalty for people who provide drugs to others, resulting in their overdose.

Long ago in Connecticut, if a person gave somebody drugs that resulted in their death, it was a capital felony. But the state’s top prosecutor told FOX61 that over the years, the drug possession laws have been reduced to misdemeanors. He’s proposing a new law to hold offenders accountable.

“One of the things that this does is it gives victims’ family closure and it holds someone responsible for their loved one’s death,” Colangelo said.

RELATED: 'It’s dangerous and it’s a poison' | State leaders vow action on opioid epidemic in Connecticut after student's death

Colangelo said his office will introduce legislation this session that would allow a charge of 1st-degree manslaughter to be placed on anyone who supplies drugs that result in someone’s death.

“There are dozens of states that have it. Connecticut doesn’t. It would allow us to prosecute for manslaughter in the first degree recklessly causing someone’s death. The individual who provided the drugs to someone who caused their death,” said Colangelo.

The new proposed law targets the person directly responsible for causing the overdose but not necessarily the distributor or manufacturer.

“There are some instances where yes, it would be another addict who is prosecuted for someone’s death,” explained Colangelo.

But by no means is Colangelo saying that Connecticut can arrest its way out of the opioid epidemic.

"No, absolutely not,” he said. “Short answer is no. We need treatment. We need to make sure the people who are getting arrested for possession of narcotics are given an opportunity to get treatment.”

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There’s little evidence to suggest that drug prosecutions do much to limit the street trade. Nor do they often result in the arrest of a high-level supplier. Still, Colangelo told FOX61 that about six years ago law enforcement in Connecticut started processing every overdose scene as if it were a homicide.

“We want to get the cell phone of the person who overdosed and see if we can connect someone who supplied those drugs to the drugs that caused death,” he explained.

Many times, it’s a fellow addict, loved one, or friend who supplies the drugs to an addict. Sometimes their intent is to keep that person from withdrawal or to help them avoid the danger of a street purchase. Colangelo said in that situation, prosecutors would use discretion.

“No. One of the things prosecutors have is discretion. In looking at that situation that you just described, that is not a situation where I think the person would not be incarcerated,” he explained.

RELATED: Hartford to supply schools with Narcan in the wake of student death

FOX61 asked Colangelo how this proposal would jive with the state's existing Good Samaritan law, which shields a person from prosecution so long as they call for help either for themselves or someone else during an overdose.

“Calling and getting somebody help is doing the right thing. We want to make sure that we still allow that to happen and that’s something that I would make sure is still in place if this law ultimately did get enacted,” explained Colangelo.

Colangelo told FOX61 his office has been drafting the details of legislation since October, long before the tragic overdose death of a Hartford teen from pure powder fentanyl.

“The first thing I thought was it's a tragedy. I thought about my kids,” he said. “Then it kind of switches in my brain. The prosecutor in me says ok, who’s responsible and can we hold them accountable?”


Matt Caron is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at mcaron@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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