The Baltimore Police Department has begun a new initiative investigating drug overdoses in order to trace the drugs back to their original dealers.
The task force of five detectives will respond to fatal and non-fatal overdose cases, with an additional one-thousand street officers being trained by the DEA in how to respond to overdose scenes.
“I think everyone would agree that we can’t keep up this rate of overdoses,” Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said in an interview. “We’re going to build some cases hopefully that will result in some criminal charges against people putting this poison out on the street.”
While the effort has been in the making for over a year, the operation -which in coalition with the DEA and the local State’s Attorney’s Office- has been working with nearby agencies to collect and share intelligence on overdose trends.
“If the person is coherent, we try to encourage cooperation, try to identify where and from whom the victim obtained the narcotic,” said police spokesman Marc Limansky.
While the formation of the task force is a good start, problems still exist in terms of logistics- as the drug “epidemic” increases, already overworked investigators and prosecutors are finding themselves increasingly more challenged when it comes to keeping up with such heavy case loads.
Baltimore Assistant State’s Attorney Gerald Collins told the Baltimore Sun that another issue the law runs into is that is it “very challenging” to charge a drug dealer with the death of a customer.
“On the state side, we can charge reckless endangerment or manslaughter, but it’s an uphill battle to do it,” Harford County Sheriff’s Captain Lee Dunbar said. “I can count on one hand how many times it’s been successful.”
Critics claim that treating overdoses as homicides would curb neither overdoses nor drug use; going further to insinuate that the move would unfairly target minorities.
“Thirty years of drug criminalization has overflowed our prisons and devastated our black and brown communities, but has reduced neither the drug trade nor consumption,” Johns Hopkins University of School of Public Health researcher Rachel Bergstein told legislators during testimony during the General Assembly session concerning a bill that targets drug dealers. “Addiction and overdose rates are only climbing higher.”
Despite whichever way one thinks about the situation, one thing remains clear- the staggering toll of casualties from overdoses continues to rise.
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