New bill holds drug dealers accountable for role in overdose death of a minor

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WMAR) - The Harford County Sheriff held a news conference in Annapolis on Wednesday in support of a bill that creates harsher penalties for drug dealers that distribute opioids in the death of a minor.

In 2016, the opioid epidemic claimed 1,856 lives in Maryland. Amber Lea Jones was one of those them.

Before she could walk, Amber Jones’ parents say she was riding. In 2014, she earned the title of Champion Horseback Rider.

“She clearly cleaned up, all blue ribbons and won the grand champion, which is the one in the middle,” said Nancy Jones holding a picture of her daughter, Amber.

With pride and sorrow, Jones describes her little girl who passed away suddenly in 2016. She was just 17-years-old when she died from a drug overdose.
“And in an instant it’s gone, it’s all gone. Walking in the hospital was very, very hard,” said Mark Jones, Amber’s dad.

The Joneses are sharing their story to save someone else's child.

On Tuesday, they were in Annapolis standing alongside Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, the county's delegation, Sheriff's Office drug investigators, and Harford County State's Attorney in support of a bill that would add stiffer penalties for the people involved in the opioid overdose death of a minor.

“This is the most egregious loss of life when adults, people over the age of 18, are targeting those under the age of 18, or minors,” said Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler.

A similar bill was proposed by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan last year but after it went through the legislative process, the bill, which was signed into law, had been watered down to only include fentanyl. 

This bill, HB-649, would cover all opioids and opioid analogues illegally obtained. The max sentence would not exceed 30 years

“It’s still a higher penalty than distribution so this is an improvement,” said Harford County State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly.

A higher penalty that the Joneses hope makes dealers think twice about how much a life is worth.

“This does not define Amber. You need help, and this is what this is all about right here, getting help for these kids because it’s bad, it’s really bad. And it’s getting worse yes, without a doubt,” said Mark Jones.
Unlike some cases, the Joneses got to see the dealer sentenced. The family says he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The term was reduced to 3 years.

The judiciary committee listened to testimony on the bill Tuesday afternoon.

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