Pa. prosecutors focus on charging dealers who sell fatal doses of heroin

Kevin Cruz-Cuebas, 19, of York, was found guilty of drug delivery resulting in death and related offenses (Provided)

Kevin Cruz-Cuebas, 19, of York, was found guilty of drug delivery resulting in death and related offenses (Provided)

Midstate Pennsylvania counties are charging more drug dealers who sell a fatal dose with a crime known as ‘drug delivery resulting in death.’

Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts data shows York County tops the list, with 10 percent of the cases statewide. Lancaster, Dauphin, Cumberland, Franklin, and Lebanon also rank among the top 10 counties.

Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said some counties, including his, view the stricter interpretation of the state law as one more way to combat the opioid crisis.

“We do differentiate between, is this somebody who is a predator dealer?” Stedman said. “Is this someone who has been selling to kids, for example? Or is this someone who has been sharing with friends who has been using for 20 years, or something like that.”

Across the state there’s been a 1,267 percent increase in this charge since 2013, according to March 2018 data.

Pressing charges against dealers whose drugs lead to a fatal overdose won’t solve the crisis, Stedman said, but it will save lives while efforts are made to improve long-term rehabilitation and keep the next generation away from prescription drugs.

While groups like the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance have said there’s no proof this kind of approach makes a difference, Stedman said he thinks it does. “At least that person’s not going to sell something that’s going to kill someone else for at least a few years.”

As for cost, Stedman’s prosecutors are salaried employees. He said it’s more a matter of choosing what cases are the most important. “Whatever resources we’re putting into it is absolutely worth it, given the consequences.”

Lancaster County has filed charges in more than 40 overdose deaths since 2016, according to the District Attorney’s office. At least 165 people died of overdoses in Lancaster County in 2017.

By the numbers

These counties filed the most drug delivery resulting in death charges. This breakdown shows the percentage of total Pennsylvania cases each county has had from 2013 through 2017.

  • York – 10%
  • Lancaster – 9%
  • Dauphin – 8%
  • Bucks -6%
  • Westmoreland – 6%
  • Cumberland – 5%
  • Franklin – 5%
  • Lebanon – 4%
  • Chester – 4%
  • Montgomery – 4%
  • Somerset – 4%

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