A then-21-year-old man who sold opioids to a 19-year-old college student so she could die by suicide has been sentenced to 24 years in federal prison for his role in providing the means for suicide and failing to get her help.
Anthony “A.J.” Hunt, now 24, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs in South Carolina for his role in the suicide death of Rachel Bandman, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Bandman, a student at the University of South Carolina, died by suicide in 2016 after Hunt sold her drugs multiple times for the express purpose of dying by suicide, including a fatal dose of opioids, according to BuzzFeed News.
After Hunt supplied Bandman with prescription opioids, he continued to have text conversations with her, telling her exactly how she could take the medication to kill herself and asking when she planned to attempt suicide. Hunt was arrested in 2018, at which time he admitted he knew Bandman intended to die by suicide. His guilty plea in court led to a 293-month sentence in federal prison followed by three years of court-ordered suspension. He is not eligible for parole.
“AJ Hunt’s distribution of oxycodone destroyed two young lives and shattered two families, and we will continue to bring justice to those, like Hunt, whose distribution of illegal drugs results in the death of another individual,” said U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon in a press release. “It is my hope that this tragic case will also help us raise awareness among students, parents, and schools about the devastating effects the misuse … of opioids can have on our college campuses.”
Bandman’s death highlighted the role of opioids in the rising rate of suicide in the United States. According to a 2019 analysis by researchers at the University of Michigan, as of 2017, one-third of overdose-related deaths and two-thirds of unintentional overdoses were attributed to opioids. Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, suggested in a separate paper the number of opioid-related suicide deaths may be even higher since suicide is often difficult for coroners and medical examiners to determine as the cause of death.
“There is a need to develop and validate better screening tools to help characterize suicide risk along a continuum of awareness regarding suicidal intent,” Volkow previously told The Mighty. “Yet most strategies for reducing opioid-overdose deaths do not include screening for suicide risk, nor do they address the need to tailor interventions for suicidal individuals.”
Hunt testified in court that he had a close relationship with Bandman and knew she was having trouble with her mental health. He said she struggled with self-harm and was trying to self-medicate her depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“She was the smartest girl I’d ever met, the funniest, the most beautiful, and that was the Rachel everybody knew and loved,” Hunt said in court, according to BuzzFeed News. “The war of mental illness is one of the hardest and least understood wars imaginable. I saw Rachel fight many hard battles, but you can’t fight forever. And I will always love Rachel. I think about her every day.”
When he suggested at one point in their relationship Bandman reach out for professional help, she told him that didn’t work for her. However, Hunt could have worked to connect Bandman with other resources or even committed himself to staying with her and keeping her safe to prevent her suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling, always reach out for help, even if you have to do it multiple times. Help is available, your life is valuable and there is hope.
In Hunt’s sentencing hearing, Judge Childs described Bandman as a “very vulnerable young individual who [was] crying out for help,” before absolving Hunt of some of his responsibility for Bandman’s death by suggesting Bandman would have died by suicide anyway. However, Childs’ statement about suicide is false — there is no such thing as someone being “destined” to die by suicide. You can get better.
Hunt’s conviction is similar to involuntary manslaughter charges leveled against Michelle Carter and more recently, Inyoung You. Both young women were accused of encouraging their boyfriends to die by suicide. Carter did so from afar through text messages with Conrad Roy III in 2014, which led to her conviction and jail sentence. You allegedly encouraged her then-college boyfriend, Alexander Urtula, to die by suicide. He died on his graduation day while You was with him, according to police.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. If you’re worried about a loved one, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s #BeThe1To campaign for suicide prevention suggests five steps to support your loved one and help keep them safe:
Today on #WorldSuicidePreventionDay, reach out and #BeThe1To to help someone in emotional pain. Suicide is complex, but…