Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in New York City, is tackling the growing opioid epidemic, reports the Wall Street Journal. Bharara has asked local police to begin systematically reporting drug overdoses to his office. The goal is to treat every overdose like a potential crime scene, including stringent evidence collection, and bring federal charges against dealers whose drugs can be linked to an overdose death. The initiative is part of a nationwide push to hold drug dealers liable for opioid overdoses, which kill 78 Americans every day. Federal prosecutors say that because state laws don’t provide lengthier sentences to punish narcotics sellers who cause death, they are stepping up their use of a federal law giving a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life for such dealers.
“We’re not saying that anybody who’s walking in the street corner and selling three Percocets for a profit should be treated with the harshest penalty possible,” Bharara said. “What we’re talking about is people who absolutely know that their product…has caused people to die.” Several U.S. attorney’s offices have been pushing to hold opioid dealers accountable for overdose deaths, including in Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio, and Delaware. Bharara, who started as a federal narcotics prosecutor in 2000, said that the opioid epidemic became an increasing priority within the past three years as overdose deaths soared.