U.S. Attorney says prosecution making dent in Kentucky opioid epidemic

Published: Aug. 16, 2016 at 5:42 AM EDT
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The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky announced convictions in three drug overdose cases Tuesday as his office works to fight overdose deaths.

US Attorney Kerry Harvey said his office began the Overdose Prosecution Initiative about a year and a half ago as a new way to fight overdose deaths.

"We came to realize that as the levels of overdose deaths just grew and grew and grew, that this was a tool that we were not using as effectively as we should," Harvey said.

Each of the three cases involved people overdosing on fentanyl. Harvey said drug users often intend to buy heroin and do not realize what they are getting is laced with fentanyl, or made entirely of fentanyl. Fentanyl, Harvey said, is about 100 times more powerful than morphine.

In one case from Woodford County, Harvey said his office prosecuted not only the person who sold the victim the drugs, but also that person's drug supplier. He said that was a first for his office.

In another case from Madison County, Harvey said two Detroit men were convicted of distributing fentanyl, resulting in a deadly overdose. Harvey said that was the first time his office had gotten convictions for people from Michigan distributing drugs using this federal law.

"A lot of folks have moved here from Detroit, just like these gentlemen, for only one reason and that is to establish heroin distribution organizations in our communities because they have found business to be very good here," he said.

Harvey said his office will keep pursuing overdose death cases.

"We have to get this right. This is not a problem we can live with. This is a problem that will destroy our communities if we don't solve it," he said.

Harvey said his office has about a dozen more cases in the pipeline.