Local mom who lost son to drug addiction concerned over state Supreme Court ruling

It’s hard to find memories when Matthew Dennis was happy.

"He was fighting opioid addiction for 23 years of his life," said Matthew's mother, Rose Dennis.

Rose said Matthew got hooked at a young age all because he was treated with opioids while battling cancer. The gripping addiction eventually led Matthew to chase drugs on the streets, living in tents across Seattle for most of his adult life.

"No parent should have to lose a child and losing a child under these circumstances is horrible," Rose said.

She said her son used heroin up until he died this past January. Rose said doctors told her that her 35-year-old son died from kidney failure due to drug use.

 "I miss him, I will never see him again, I did everything I could, my husband and I tried to fix this problem," Rose said.

 She said treatment was hard to come by but the triggers and drugs were bountiful.

"The drug dealers were available," Rose said.

Rose said it was shockingly easy for her son to obtain any and all drugs. She is now worried about the state Supreme Court’s decision from last week that struck down Washington’s drug possession law.  The court ruled that it was unconstitutional because it didn’t require prosecutors to prove that someone knowingly and intentionally had the drugs. The ruling now means that simple possession of hard drugs is essentially legal.

"I think it’s opening up the door for people to sell drugs, the idea that drug dealers can just walk in the door and walk right back is not helping our society, we are going to see more people setting up tents and living on the sidewalks of Seattle," Rose said.  

She said addicts need treatment, not jail time, but Rose is concerned that drug dealers will game the new system and make it harder for law enforcement and prosecutors to go after them.

"We don’t want people to think we are giving up on drug dealers, we are absolutely going to prosecute," Casey McNerthney with the King County Prosecutor’s Office said.

But McNerthney admits in some cases it may be harder to prove intent to sell. Also, prosecutors are still hazy on the number of hard drugs that is acceptable under the ruling since it was left open-ended.

"We are still trying to figure that out," McNerthney said.

As they navigate the changes, the King County Prosecutor’s Office told Q13 News they are bracing for more overdoses. King County saw 538 overdose deaths from drugs and alcohol in 2020 compared to 435 in 2019.

"We are seeing an alarming number of overdoses and we are certainly concerned, the fentanyl problem is remarkable, it really is frightening," McNerthney said.

For Rose, the daily war against addiction is over but only because it took her son’s life.

"I loved his hugs, I loved his smile, and I loved the potential he had in life that he wasn’t able to pursue, he said he loved us and said he was sorry," Rose said.