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Should a pregnant addiction sufferer be charged if she overdoses?

A woman in another state has been charged with aggravated assault on an unborn child after she overdosed while seven months pregnant. She now faces up to 20 years in prison.

The tragedy is that she was apparently known to the justice system as a heroin addict and thought likely to overdose. She had spent much of her pregnancy in jail on a charge of retail theft. When she was released recently, she was given a prescription for Narcan, a substance that counteracts the often deadly effects of heroin overdose.

Even more tragic, when she did overdose, first responders did not recognize the symptoms. They thought she was suffering from a closed head injury that was causing her to have seizures, according to a police report. Police on the scene didn't recognize the overdose, either.

The overdose doesn't seem to have been diagnosed immediately upon arrival at a hospital, either. According to the Associated Press, it wasn't until a blood test was completed that anyone realized her symptoms were due to a heroin overdose. That may mean her child was more seriously injured than she might have been if her mother had received proper treatment.

Is addiction a disease or a criminal act?

For those who are addicted to opiates or opioid drugs, overdose is a real concern. As heartbreaking as it is, overdose deaths have more than quadrupled since 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also according to the CDC, many people are transitioning to heroin after abusing prescription opioid drugs, and heroin use is on the rise even among demographic groups that previously hadn't used it much, including women, higher-income people, and those with private insurance.

Addiction is a disease, and it can have terrifying consequences. If the possibility of overdose or child injury won't persuade addicts to stop using, it's hard to imagine how prosecuting them after an overdose will.

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