BANGOR – There are restrictions to the current state law regarding children who overdose on drugs their parents take, but that may soon change with the incoming legislature.
“In Maine, really the law that best fits that is a situation with a child endangering law,” said Penobscot and Piscataquis County District Attorney Marianne Lynch.
The problem is, the current law has no teeth.
“The statue we have only allows us to charge a misdemeanor,” said Suzanne Russell, an assistant district attorney for Penobscot County.
After a Bangor couple was recently charged with endangering the welfare of a child in connection to the drug overdose death of their 1-year-old daughter, people questioned why they weren’t charged with murder.
The affidavit states the mother rubbed empty dope baggies on the girl’s gums, in an effort to help her sleep.
If convicted, they each face a maximum sentence of up to a year in jail.
A possible change in Maine’s endangering law is on the horizon.
“A new law that is going to be before the legislature this year that will elevate this to a felony charge,” Lynch said. “And it’s not that we want to punish addicts but first and foremost we want to protect children. Felony level cases allow us to get people the help.”
She said drug court and probation are tools that can then be utilized to help drug users to get on the road to recovery.
“Recovery is possible,” Lynch said.
A Bangor mother charged earlier this year with feeding her child meth-tainted breast milk, that caused him to overdose, is currently enrolled in the Penobscot County drug court.
“As a prosecutor and a mother, it just really bothers me a lot when children die from drug use,” Russell said. “We have a drug epidemic in the Bangor area, the state of Maine and as you know everyone is dealing with that. And when children start to get involved it’s very difficult.”
There have been recent stories of baby drug overdoses from all over the country. One includes a California man who overdosed with his 13-month-old son nearby who apparently found his drugs and overdosed and died, according to a story by the San Francisco Chronicle. The dad never recovered and died days later.
And last week in Pennsylvania, the parents of an 11-month-old boy were charged after “sleeping” while their child overdosed in the backseat, according to a CNN report. It took three shots of Narcan, an opioid antidote, to save the child’s life. The parents were both charged with aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of the child, the CNN story states.
“This is not just an issue that is effecting us here in Maine or Penobscot County, it’s really a nationwide issue that we’re seeing more and more children who are being exposed and are having, in some cases, deadly consequences because of that drug exposure,” Lynch said.
The legislature is expected to take up the proposed bill in the upcoming session.