Authorities have new target in overdose deaths: drug dealers
TOMS RIVER, N.J. — With the number of heroin overdoses skyrocketing nationwide, a growing number of law enforcement agencies are dusting off strict, rarely used drug laws, changing investigatory techniques and relying on technology to prosecute drug dealers for causing overdose deaths.
The change in tactics occurs as more people turn to heroin because of crackdowns on powerful prescription opiate painkillers that make them more expensive and inaccessible.
Nationwide, the number of people who said they have used heroin in the past year skyrocketed by 66 percent between 2007 and 2011, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The number of people who died of overdoses and had heroin in their system jumped 55 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Rather than going after lower-level users of heroin, prosecutors are looking to take out dealers and members of the supply chain by connecting them and the drugs they sold to overdose deaths and charging them with laws that carry stiff penalties.
“We're going to be ruthless,” said prosecutor Joseph Coronato of Ocean County, N.J., where 75 overdose deaths have occurred this year. “We're looking for long-term prison sentences.”
Coronato and other New Jersey prosecutors are employing the state's little-used “strict liability for drug death” statute, a first-degree crime that holds dealers and producers responsible for a user's death and has a 20-year maximum sentence.
He and other prosecutors are changing the way they investigate overdoses, which were once looked upon as accidents. Detectives are being immediately dispatched when word of an overdose is received. Paramedics are being told to treat overdoses like crimes. And coroners are being asked to order autopsies and preserve forensic evidence.
“When you go to an overdose death, treat it like a crime scene,” said Kerry Harvey, the U.S. attorney for eastern Kentucky. He has started prosecuting people who sold both prescription opiates and heroin under a federal law that prohibits the distribution of illicit substances and allows additional penalties for a death.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Obama: No credible intelligence about terror plot against US
- Video of white Chicago patrolman fatally firing on fleeing black youth sparks demonstrations
- Self-driving vehicles closer to getting green light as feds ease stance
- Foreign policy expert: Obama administration should create Syria safe areas
- House Republicans call for refugee limits in spending bill
- Scandals leave Oklahomans in dark
- 4 dead in Fort Hood chopper crash
- Obama pledges support for France against ISIS, wary of role for Russia
- GOP readies next assault on health care law
- Email address gives FBI lead on record theft of user IDs, passwords
- 20,000 still in dark in Spokane from windstorm