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May Drug Dealers Be Held Liable When Abusers Are Seriously or Fatally Harmed?

Last October, a memorial was held in Huntington Beach, California for 18-year-old Tyler Macleod. Macleod was one of several teens to abuse heroin as part of what the Orange County Register reports is being referred to by some as a “teen drug epidemic.” 



“In California, parents of children harmed by the use of illegal drugs have recourse through the civil justice system,” explained Orange County injury lawyer James Ballidis, “specifically under the Drug Dealer Liability Act.”




Tyler Macleod was a senior at Huntington Beach High School. Macleod came from a supportive family, but unfortunately turned to drugs in what may have been an effort to self-medicate his attention deficit disorder and depression. He first abused marijuana, but later turned to Ecstasy, prescription pills and heroin. 



Despite being sent to detoxification and rehabilitation centers and receiving drug tests and the help of live-in counselors, Macleod relapsed at the start of the school year after two months of sobriety. He ran away from home and fatally overdosed on heroin. 



Teen Drug Use in California



According to the “2010 California Needs Assessment Report” published by the California Department of Alcohol and Drugs Programs, alcohol abuse costs California $38.4 billion and the abuse of illegal drugs costs the state $23.8 billion. 



Many of the drug users are teenagers. In California, a “Biennial California Student Survey” is conducted to determine key information on alcohol, drug and tobacco use among the underaged population.  In the most recent edition, covering 2009 through 2010, 8,390 students in grades 7, 9 and 11 were surveyed. 



 Survey results indicated the following:


  • 46 percent of 9th graders and 63 percent of 11th graders reported having at least one drink. 


  • 12 percent of 9th graders and 23 percent of 11th graders responded yes to binge drinking.



  • 24 percent of 9th graders and 41 percent of 11th graders reported yes to being very drunk in the past.


  • 6 percent of 7th graders, 14 percent of 9th graders and 24 percent of 11th graders had tried marijuana.



  • 18 percent of 9th graders and 22 percent of 11th graders had abused prescription medication. Prescription painkillers were the second most popular drugs among kids before marijuana. Tranquilizers, diet pills and attention deficit disorder drugs were other medications that had been abused; 21 percent of 9th graders and 23 percent of 11th graders also reported abusing cold medicine.


  • 9 percent of 9th graders and 16 percent of 11th graders had tried Ecstasy. 



  • 2 percent of 11th graders indicated they were currently using methamphetamine.


  • 8 percent of 9th graders and 17 percent of 11th graders were classified as high-risk drug users. 



These statistics reveal little change in the percentage of high-risk drug users from previous years, indicating that the problem of drug abuse remains an unchanging concern throughout the state. 



How Can Parents Help?



Parents of children aged 17 and under can force them to enter a rehabilitation program; however, typically kids are most successful at rehabilitation if they make the choice to go themselves. Seeking professional assistance and organizing an intervention to help children understand the risks of their behavior may be a better option than forcing a child to get help. 



The California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs provides a 24-hour helpline for those who need assistance finding treatment for their children: parents may call 1-800-879-2772, 1-800-662-4357 or 1-916-327-3728. Online directories of treatment centers and resources are also available on the Department’s website. 



Filing a Civil Lawsuit against Drug Dealers



Parents and others who are harmed by the use of illegal controlled substances can take action in California under the Drug Dealer Liability Act.  If a parent suffers emotional distress due to a child’s addiction or use of black market drugs, or if a parent loses a child as a result of an overdose, the parent can take action against the parties who distributed the drugs. This can include both drug dealers who sell street drugs as well as doctors operating illegitimate clinics whose sole purpose is to provide illegal prescription drugs. 



Parents, therefore, have at least one option to hold dealers responsible for the effects of drugs on children, provided those drug dealers can be located. This may be small comfort to parents who have lost children, but these types of civil actions can help to serve as a deterrent to prevent drug sales to teens.   



Additional articles on this and other subjects related to civil law are available to the public free of charge through our office’s Preferred Friends and Clients Program.



If you would like to request one of these free resources, or to discuss a specific case with an Orange County injury lawyer, feel free to call 866-981-5596. 

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