War on Opioids: Family behind Kristen’s Law

A driving force behind Kristen’s Law is speaking out.

Series Producer: Caitlin Grimaldi

Photojournalist and Editor: Scott Santos

A driving force behind Kristen’s Law is speaking out.

"She mentioned that she had a hole inside of her -- a hole in her soul or her heart," Sue Coutu said of her daughter, Kristen.

"That's how she would describe it and when she used the drugs,” Coutu said. “She said that it filled the hole, that was the only time she felt she was happy."

Coutu said her daughter started using heroin when she was 27.

It wasn’t long before she was hooked.

After two years, she wanted to get some help.

"She finally told me one day that she had decided that she was done and she was going to go to some type of rehab center."

But her insurance ran out after 30 days at a center in Texas.

"I was there. I went out for the last weekend,” said Coutu. “They had a parents’ weekend and she told me straight out that she was not ready to leave. She felt that she would use if she left."

They arrived home very late Sunday night.

"She told me she was going out to dinner with an old friend and she was going to an AA meeting,” Coutu said.

Hours later, Coutu began texting and calling Kristen. But she never received a reply.

"My brother, who's a Cranston firefighter, called me and said that he had gotten a call that they had found her," Coutu said.

Then, she heard a knock at her door. Two police officers were on the other side.

"They came in and I said to them, ‘Please don't tell me my daughter's dead,’ and I repeated it three times. ‘Please don't tell me my daughter's dead,’ and they said, ‘We're sorry. ma'am.’"

Kristen was found in her car. She suffered a fatal overdose.

"And it was actually 100 percent fentanyl and she died right away,” said Coutu.

Police launched an investigation into her death.

"When Kristen overdosed, we had a very successful investigation with the Cranston Police Department,” said Joee Lindbeck, who is the assistant attorney general in Rhode Island.

The investigation led them to Aaron Andrade, who had sold Kristen the drugs. He eventually pleaded guilty to murder.

But, what if he hadn't?

"Kristen's case really showed something to us from a legal loophole angle," said Lindbeck.

That's how Kristen's Law came to be. It gives judges the option to send dealers to prison for life if they supply a user with an illegal drug that causes a fatal overdose.

"She was my only child and we were very close,” said Coutu. "This is what she wrote to me in a card and it was made for me by a friend and it's her exact handwriting,” she said showing a necklace a friend had made for her.

“You are my rock, my life, my love,” she wrote.

"She was quite a loss to the world,” said Coutu.

Not everyone's on board with the new law, saying it could be used to punish small-time dealers who may themselves be struggling with addiction.

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