Jamie Maynard has been clean for three years, a feat she credits in part to having gone to prison, where she got off heroin. But in a lengthy piece for the New Yorker, Paige Williams makes the case that she should have never been behind bars. The Ohio woman was charged in August 2015 with involuntary manslaughter, trafficking, and "corrupting another with drugs"—over some heroin she gave a friend named Courtney Penix. Facing as much as 20 years, Maynard pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 4 years, 11 months. Her case is at the center of Williams' look at the surge in overdose-homicide prosecutions, which are ostensibly meant to scoop up big traffickers and repeat offenders but much more often target people like Maynard: friends, family, or partners who aren't profiting from their role but are simply fellow users.
Maynard herself got hooked on drugs while working as a licensed blackjack dealer at the Hollywood Casino. The pay and benefits were good, but the repetitive nature of the work caused an old rotator-cuff injury to flare up. She started taking black-market opioids for the pain but transitioned to the much-cheaper heroin when her habit hit $600 a week. "A dabbler uses to get high; a person with an addiction uses to stay well," writes Williams, and the bulk of the texts Penix sent the then-26-year-old Maynard were along those lines: The 24-year-old Penix generally needed Xanax, Suboxone, or heroin, stat, to avoid an unbearable withdrawal. On April 27, 2015, Maynard grabbed the heroin Penix had requested when she was at her dealer's and met her in the Walmart parking lot. Hours later Maynard got this text from Penix's number: "Courtney has passed away from an overdose." (Read Williams' piece in full here for much more on Maynard's case and the politics of these types of cases.)