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People who let friends die of overdoses should be prosecuted

For allowing a friend to die of a heroin overdose, and then dumping him behind some bushes, Henry Corley and Ricky James Mangum received a combined total of $5 in fines and three years of probation for disposing of a body improperly. That was the disturbing end to the tragic story of Harry Kasper, a 24-year-old who died in 2011 in Brighton after a night of drug use with the two men.

A simple call to 911 might have saved Kasper’s life, and now his father, Jim Kasper, is lobbying prosecutors to bring involuntary manslaughter charges against the two men who sat by while his son died. If prosecutors do bring charges, and win a conviction, it could set an important precedent: Drug users who fail to report overdoses may be held criminally responsible.

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The signs of heroin overdoses — slow breathing, blue lips — are hard to miss and, in this case, Corley claims he realized that Kasper was overdosing but did not call police after Mangum threatened to kill him. (Implausibly, Mangum says he didn’t realize Kasper was overdosing.)

Fear of prosecution for drug offenses should never be an excuse for withholding medical attention. But now there’s even less reason for a reaction like Mangum’s. Although it was not in effect in 2011, the Commonwealths’ Good Samaritan law now protects bystanders who report overdoses, including other drug users, who will not be prosecuted for possession if they call 911 to report an overdose. That law needs more publicity. At the same time, prosecuting Corley and Mangum would send a complementary message: When someone is dying, there is never a reason not to call 911.

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