LaPorte County officials are making plans to treat drug overdose deaths as potential homicides. The idea is to try to recover evidence that might lead to the dealers who provided the illegal drugs.
LaPorte County Prosecutor Bob Szilagyi said the policy would instruct all jurisdictions countywide to treat the scene of a suspected overdose death as if a homicide occurred.
That means not pulling the syringe out of an addict's arm or otherwise cleaning up the scene before evidence technicians can process it.
Collecting fingerprints and other data might yield useful clues that could lead to the prosecution of drug dealers.
"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.
Providing drugs to a user who overdoses isn't necessarily the same as committing a homicide. For a murder charge, there would have to be proof the dealer intended to kill the victim.
But gathering evidence might be enough to put dealers behind bars, and it might serve as a deterrent to selling heroin and other narcotics in LaPorte County.
Representatives of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies have offered their input on this policy. That's helpful for LaPorte County, of course, but also could lead to adoption of this policy elsewhere.
Drug abuse is a problem across the nation, and Northwest Indiana is certainly no exception. In 2013, there were 12 LaPorte County deaths related to heroin or heroin in comination with other substances, county Coroner John Sullivan said.
"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.
By treating these fatal drug overdoses as crime scenes, evidence can be gathered that might lead to the arrest and prosecution of the deceased addict's dealer. It's a smart move and should be done nationwide.