There are plans in LaPorte County to start treating overdose deaths — especially from heroin — as possible homicide investigations to uncover more evidence that might lead to the dealers who provided the narcotics.
With help from law enforcement locally all the way to the federal level, a policy is being drafted by LaPorte County Prosecutor Bob Szilagyi at a time when there seems there's no letting up in the use of heroin.
Szilagyi said the policy will stipulate that all jurisdictions countywide treat the scene of a suspected overdose death as if a homicide occurred.
Szilagyi said the goal is to make sure evidence that could shed light on who provided the drugs resulting in an overdose is not disturbed.
Presently, at an overdose death, the scene often gets cleaned up and other things like a syringe being pulled from the arm of a victim might occur.
Szilagyi said those actions could destroy evidence such as fingerprints that would otherwise be preserved and collected by crime scene technicians under the policy being developed to protect the scene of a drug-related death.
"It's not a guarantee that in every case something is going to come about, but at least it's something we can try to find out if we can do something with it," Szilagyi said.
Initially, a suspected overdose death is treated as an accident unless evidence surfaces to show otherwise, LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan said.
He said tougher standards in the way the scene of a drug-related death is handled can't help but do some good.
"It'll get investigated more," Sullivan said.
Szilagyi said the provider of drugs used in an overdose death cannot be charged with murder unless an intent to kill the individual is proven.
However, by having a policy to govern what happens at the scene of an overdose, more pushers could land in jail on drug-dealing and other charges linked to a death, which might discourage people from selling heroin and other narcotics in LaPorte County.
Szilagyi said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration came up with the idea for the policy after learning about the high number of heroin deaths in the county.
Representatives from the DEA and the U.S. attorney general's office have come to recent meetings to offer input on developing the policy.
Having authorities at such a high level being involved could result in more serious charges being filed under sometimes tougher federal laws, he said.
Szilagyi said his goal is to have the policy in place within the next few weeks.
"I've got to finish writing it up and take it to all of the departments for their review, and we'll take it from there," Szilagyi said.
Sullivan said there were 12 deaths related to heroin or a combination of heroin and other foreign substances in 2013.
Many lives of overdose victims were saved with the antidote Narcan injected by paramedics after they stopped breathing.
"When nobody is there, you can't tell if the person injected the heroin themselves or did somebody else do it? Those are some of the things they'll be looking for," Sullivan said.