Man Faces Life in Prison Because Woman OD'd on Fentanyl That She Willingly Bought

This article was originally published by The Influence, a news site that covers the full spectrum of human relationships with drugs. Follow The Influenceon Facebook or Twitter.


Prosecutors are increasingly seeking long sentences for people who deal drugs that might contribute to fatal overdoses. In a recent case, Kevin Manchester has had his bail revoked and faces life in prison after he allegedly sold fentanyl to a woman who overdosed and died.

Fentanyl is the latest drug to unleash ever-helpful media panic and knee-jerk policy making. Its high potency means that it is active at much lower doses than heroin (hence the screaming headlines about how it’s 50 times stronger than heroin). So people who unwittingly use heroin that contains fentanyl can snort or inject a fatal dose.

Manchester appears to have sold fentanyl knowingly. But missing from the headlines is that crucially, his client appears to have asked him for it.

“Previous text messages between the two show that Michelle and the defendant both knew the drugs he was selling contained fentanyl,” Assistant Attorney General Danielle Horgan said.

“Michelle wanted good stuff, according to those texts,” his public defender Sarah Newhall said. “She wanted fentanyl. The only time she asked for a drug by name was for fentanyl.”

Also missing from the news report is whether the woman had taken other drugs (most drug-related deaths involve combinations of substances, such as mixing heroin with benzos or alcohol) or had pre-existing health conditions.

Prosecutors are using the text exchange between Manchester and the woman as evidence of his heightened culpability. The defense has argued that far from being a drug-dealing menace—too dangerous to be allowed back into the community through bail—Manchester struggles with addiction and was dealing drugs to help support his family. The judge, in turn, used this seemingly mitigating information to suggest that he is a drug-dealing menace.

“His later confession of sorts that he was unemployed and selling to support his own family and his habit would certainly shore up the idea that he was active in sales,” the Honorable Judge Coburn opined.

Here’s a thought experiment: The number of deaths linked to alcohol is basically immeasurable, since too much booze leads to everything from drunk driving fatalities to early death from disease to unintelligent behavior like starting fights or running into traffic to choking to death in your sleep (although the CDC has estimates). Yet when alcohol leads to a death literally no one on the production or distribution chain gets blamed, despite the fact that alcohol companies’ deft marketing strategies have contributed to rising rates of drinking among groups that have historically moderated or abstained, like women. If we’re throwing around dramatic declarations about drug “epidemics” maybe a more appropriate target of alarmism is alcohol, the drug that kills more people than heroin and prescription drugs combined.

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