Hamilton County police and prosecutors are starting to make progress in identifying heroin dealers and charging them with the overdose deaths or near deaths of their users.
Since the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition was formed a year ago, Administrative Director Tom Synan says there has been a 17 percent arrest rate in death investigations and 44 percent in non-death investigations. "Now that doesn't seem like a lot. But take it from the year before when it was zero, that's a pretty big difference."
Hamilton County Sergeant Mike Steers has to be selective in which cases he investigates. "Unfortunately the reality is, there's just too many overdoses for us to work every single one."
When Steers and others do investigate, he says they are very thorough, looking for DNA, examining cell phone records, and talking to witnesses. Assistant Prosecutor Seth Tieger says to take this to trial, "We have to be convinced that the person's guilty of the crime and we can prove it in court." Four alleged dealers, according to Hamilton County court records, since September, 2014 have been charged with involuntary manslaughter:
- Christopher Eaglin
- Stephanie Eaglin
- Kenneth Gentry
- Vance Morgan
If the user is revived by the drug Narcan a conviction may be easier. Tieger says that person can testify against the dealer in court and the dealer can be charged with "corrupting another with drugs." That charge carries a penalty of two to eight years in jail without probation.
Synan says drug dealers are starting to get the message. "If they think I can get attached to someone who dies and they can come back and get me and charge me with a serious crime maybe I'll think twice about putting fentanyl in there and maybe I'll think twice about selling heroin."
State Representative Jonathon Dever, R-Madeira, has introduced a bill to create a new drug manslaughter charge. Tieger says this would give prosecutors another option.
Members of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition wish they could do more. Sgt. Steers points to the arrest rate. "We're not going to be able to quantify that with numbers, but when you are able to go to a family member, a mother and father and say we were able to identify the person that contributed to your son or daughter's death, that's a measurable success right there."