image of spilled white pills indicating overdose charges in bradenton & Sarasota florida
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on LinkedIn
By Brice Van Elswyk
Founding Attorney

The opioid crisis and the surge in the use of illegal drugs have led to a startling increase in overdose incidents across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 106,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2021, marking a 14% age-adjusted increase from the previous year. The rising numbers have brought increased scrutiny from law enforcement agencies, making it more important than ever to understand the legal implications of overdose situations. Whether you’re personally affected or a concerned friend or family member, knowing how the law addresses overdose events is crucial.

Legal Definition of Overdose

In the legal context, an overdose typically refers to the act of consuming a substance—often a controlled substance like opioids, cocaine, or methamphetamines—in an amount that is harmful or potentially fatal. The amount that constitutes an overdose can vary by substance and individual tolerance. It’s important to note that overdose charges often go hand-in-hand with other charges, such as possession of a controlled substance. 

Types of Substances Involved

Various types of substances can be involved in overdose charges, and these often dictate the severity of the legal penalties. Prescription medications like opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants are commonly implicated in overdose cases, especially when they are used without a valid prescription or in higher-than-recommended doses. Illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine are also frequent culprits in overdose situations and often carry more severe criminal penalties. 

Florida’s Drug-Induced Homicide Law

In Florida, if a person engages in the “unlawful distribution” of certain substances or mixtures that are later the “proximate cause” of the death of the user, they may be guilty of homicide. In other words, if you provide certain drugs to someone, and they die after using those substances, you could be accused of murder—even if you didn’t force them to take the drugs or had no other involvement beyond handing them over or selling them. Understanding Florida’s drug-induced homicide law is crucial, as it elevates the legal stakes significantly for those involved in the distribution of controlled substances that result in a fatal overdose.

Potential Legal Consequences

In Florida, the legal consequences for overdose charges can be severe. These could range from felony possession charges, which carry significant fines and the possibility of incarceration, to more severe charges like drug-induced homicide, punishable by lengthy prison terms or even life imprisonment. The penalties can be further exacerbated if you have prior drug-related convictions or if minors are involved. Given the serious nature of Florida’s drug laws and the potentially life-altering consequences, it’s important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand your legal options and rights.

Good Samaritan Laws and Their Implications

Good Samaritan laws are designed to encourage people to seek medical assistance for overdose situations without the fear of legal repercussions. In many states, these laws provide limited immunity from prosecution for certain drug-related offenses when a person seeks emergency medical help for themselves or someone else experiencing an overdose. However, the scope of protection varies, and there are specific conditions that need to be met for the law to apply.

In Florida, the Good Samaritan law generally protects individuals from being arrested, charged, or prosecuted for drug possession if they are seeking medical assistance for a person experiencing an overdose. However, these protections may not extend to more severe charges like drug trafficking or drug-induced homicide. Therefore, while Good Samaritan laws offer some level of legal protection, it’s essential to consult with an experienced attorney to fully understand the limitations and conditions of these laws.

Scenarios Leading to Criminal Charges

In Florida, there are multiple scenarios that could land you in legal hot water related to overdose. If you’re caught with illegal substances at the site of an overdose, you could be charged with drug possession alongside any overdose-related charges. Supplying or distributing drugs that lead to someone’s overdose and subsequent death could result in you being charged under Florida’s drug-induced homicide laws. Additionally, if you’re present during an overdose and fail to seek medical assistance, you might not be fully protected by Florida’s Good Samaritan laws, leaving you vulnerable to criminal charges. Being aware of the risks and implications is crucial for navigating the complexities of Florida’s legal system.

Defending Against Overdose Charges

Defending against overdose charges often requires the expertise of an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the nuances of drug laws and related penalties. Strategies for defense may include challenging the validity of the evidence, questioning whether the substance in question directly led to the overdose, or disputing the dosage amount. Another approach could be arguing that medical conditions or other substances contributed to the overdose, thereby weakening the prosecution’s case.

Understanding the complexities of overdose-related charges in Florida is crucial, especially given the severe legal ramifications you could face. The best course of action is to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to navigate these issues and build a strong defense. If you or someone you know is facing overdose charges, don’t hesitate to contact Van Elswyk Law for a consultation to explore your legal options.

About the Author
Brice Van Elswyk started his professional career as an investment banker in 1998. Over the next 14 years, Brice worked for several international investment banks, eventually specializing in structured products with complex tax, accounting, and regulatory capital constraints.While at the State Attorney’s Office, Brice prosecuted crimes ranging from misdemeanors such as DUI’s and domestic batteries, all the way to homicide, drug trafficking and sex crimes. Most recently, Brice was a specialty prosecutor focusing on capital sex crimes and crimes against children. Now, Brice combines his vast knowledge of finance, and his extensive experience as a trial attorney to serve clients in both criminal defense and civil matters.