BUFFALO -- With a Buffalo man on his way to a 20-year prison term for causing the death of another man in an opioid-related overdose, federal prosecutors are now asking local law enforcement agencies to treat every overdose case like "a crime scene."

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York J. P. Kennedy, Jr., announced Wednesday the first-of-its-kind initiative to enhance the way local law enforcement responds to opioid overdoses.

Beginning in Erie County, with the opportunity to expand to other the locations like Niagara County, local law enforcement officers who respond to overdose calls will input certain investigative information into their on-board patrol car computers and follow new evidence gathering protocols for the processing of overdose scenes.

“While we may not be able to prosecute our way out of this epidemic, that does not mean that prosecution has no role in the fight,” Kennedy said. "While prevention and treatment efforts are critical to success in driving down overdose death rates, prosecution also plays an important role."

Under the new initiative, when law enforcement officers arrive at what they believe to be an opioid overdose, certain information, with investigative value, will be collected and put into a law enforcement database. Then standardized protocols regarding the processing of the overdose scene and the collection of evidence will be followed.

"By standardizing the way these overdose scenes are processed, we enhance our ability to prosecute those who peddle this poison," Kennedy said. "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.”

Officers and investigators will also enter information about the overdose call into ODMAP, a real-time, national GPS mapping system which tracks overdoses, overdose deaths and Narcan use nationwide.

"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," Kennedy said. "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.”

Falls Acting Police Superintendent Mike Trane said officers here have been adding data on overdoses to ODMAP for "a couple of years now."

"It's been our protocol for years to send detectives to overdose scenes," Trane said. "If they were to move (the new U.S. Attorney) protocols up here to Niagara County, we'd be ready to go."

Trane said treating all overdose cases as crime scenes will require extra resources but may be necessary to address the overdose epidemic.

"It would me more intensive to secure and treat (overdose cases) as crimes scenes," he said. "But with this epidemic, if we need to do, we'll do it."

Kennedy said his office has prosecuted 16 defendants for distributing heroin and/or fentanyl which caused the death of or seriously injured 23 victims. The Erie County District Attorney’s Office has prosecuted one defendant for manslaughter in connection with an opioid-related death.

Carlique DeBerry, 40, of Buffalo was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison after being convicted on a charge of distribution of fentanyl causing a death.

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