The New York prosecutor who was so successful in going after insider trading and public corruption is now setting his sights on the opioid epidemic claiming the empire state and all others across the country. US Attorney Preet Bharara is working closely with local police departments in the hopes of treating every overdose that’s reported to his office as a potential crime scene so they can start cracking down on dealers linked to fatalities with federal drug charges. The partnership will include the entire Southern District of New York, including Manhattan, the Bronx and Westchester County. Officials and law enforcement are hoping that the new measure will deter the sale of heroin and illegal prescriptions in the region.
Bharara’s frustration is shared with federal prosecutors all over the United States who say that state laws don’t permit longer prison sentences for drug pushers whose product is found to result in an overdose death. They are banning together to make more frequent use of a federal statute that allows such penalty enhancements, a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years to life in prison. The effort is not meant to criminalize addiction, but rather to prosecute those that take advantage of people’s chemical dependency and kill some of them in the process. Other states that have pushed for this kind of legislation include Delaware, Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia.
Although he is ramping up his intervention in the escalating crisis, Bharara actually began is his career in the Manhattan US Attorney’s Office as a narcotics prosecutor almost 17 years ago. He has proven to have far-reaching influence in the prosecution of dealers involved in overdose deaths. Last year, his office charged Bronx-area drug traffickers who he alleged hired ground-level dealers to traffic heroin up through Vermont. He has recently hosted a series of town hall meetings in the New York City area in an effort to spread awareness and drum up support for the plan. There may, however, be opposition at a higher level as federal regulators are looking to decrease mass incarceration.