The Illinois General Assembly has approved legislation intended to make it easier to hold drug dealers accountable when their customers overdose.
After eight years in the Army, Evan Rushing had PTSD. One day last year, he drove to St. Louis to buy heroin. It was a bad batch; he overdosed and died.
Evan’s mother, Janice, says police identified the dealer who sold the drugs. But prosecutors couldn’t charge him with drug-induced homicide, because Rushing bought the heroin in Missouri.
“There’s nothing worse than knowing that person is walking the streets and could do this again. But now he can’t. Heroin is bad in our area. I know it's bad all across our state. It's really bad in Madison and St. Clair Counties. We need to fight it with all the tools possible."
The legislation won broad support in the General Assembly, with an emotional Rushing watching the vote.
But the strategy of fighting drug use by prosecuting drug dealers has pitfalls. Studies show witnesses may not call 911 for an overdose because they fear being prosecuted themselves.
In Illinois, anti-drug laws have exceptions to encourage people to report overdoses.
Southern Illinois Congressman Mike Bost says he remembers the heroin problem of the 1960's and 70's.
But, the Murphysboro republican says the current epidemic is worse. He says the scary thing is once people get hooked on heroin, they usually don't recover.
"You lose them because they think they're going to get that one more rush before they go into rehab. Or, if they just come out of rehab, and then all of a sudden they fall off the wagon, they think they can do it as heavy as what they did before. It's an epidemic that we've got to fight."
Bost says the current opioid epidemic is connected to the surge in heroin use. He says people move from opioids to heroin because the prescription drugs become too expensive and they look for a cheaper alternative.
Last summer, Bost voted for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama. It included interventions for the treatment of opioid and heroin addiction and prevention of overdose deaths. But, it did not provide federal funding.