Erie County Tries Innovative Approach To Opioid Overdoses

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BUFFALO – A first of its kind approach to opioid overdoses is being implemented in Erie County which treats opioid overdose scenes as crime scenes.

U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr., along with Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn, Central Police Services (CPS) Commissioner James Janciewicz, and Daniel Rinaldo, from the New York New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), announced the new initiative to be used across Erie County to enhance law enforcement’s response to opioid overdoses.

Officers who respond to overdoses can now input certain details into their on-board computers to process the events at the scene.

“While we may not be able to prosecute our way out of this epidemic, that does not mean that prosecution has no role in our fight” Kennedy said. “While prevention and treatment efforts are critical to success in driving down overdose death rates, prosecution also plays an important role. Treatment represents the appropriate way to deal with those addicted to these poisons. Prosecution represents the appropriate way to deal with those drug dealers addicted to the profits generated by their spewing this poison into our community.”

Under the initiative, when law enforcement officers arrive at what they believe to be an opioid overdose, certain information will be collected and imputed into a law enforcement database and standardized protocols regarding the processing of the overdose scene and the collection of evidence will be followed. In addition, the information will also be entered into ODMAP, a real time, national GPS mapping system which tracks overdoses, overdose deaths, and Narcan use nationwide.

According to the latest statistics available, which include 2013 through 2015, opioid-related deaths are increasing. The research shows Erie County recorded 130 such deaths in 2013, 145 in 2014 and 277 in 2015.

Chautauqua County recorded 13 opioid-related deaths in 2013, 17 in 2014 and 24 in 2015. The death toll also rose in Cattaraugus County from 4 in 2013 to 5 in 2014 and 17 in 2015.

“By standardizing the way these overdose scenes are processed, we enhance our ability to prosecute those who peddle this poison. At the same time, by simply tracking the location of non-fatal overdoses, we enhance the ability of treatment providers to reach those who are in the greatest need. It is this simultaneous enhancement of both our law enforcement function—prosecuting drug dealers—and the treatment function—helping addicts—which constitutes a highly effective one, two punch in our effort to combat this deadly epidemic,” Kennedy said.

“By establishing consistent protocols for all law enforcement, we will be able to preserve critical evidence in overdose death investigations in order to prosecute these opiate dealers,” said Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn.

To date, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has prosecuted 16 defendants for distributing heroin and/or fentanyl which caused the death of or seriously bodily injury to 23 victims. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office has also prosecuted one defendant for manslaughter in connection with an opioid related death.

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