Effort to Stem Tide of Opioid Overdoses in Westchester
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Astorino and DA ScarpinoJuly 27, 2017 - Flanked by local police chiefs, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino and District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. today announced the formation of a joint Task Force to address the region’s growing heroin and opioid epidemic.

Astorino and Scarpino said members of the County Department of Public Safety would serve on the Task Force alongside prosecutors and criminal investigators from the District Attorney’s Office. The Westchester County Intelligence Center, established by the District Attorney’s Office in 2008, will dedicate three analysts to assist the Task Force in compiling, analyzing and reporting on statistical and evidentiary trends and patterns.

In addition, Astorino and Scarpino said the Task Force would work closely with local police departments to combat illegal heroin and opioid trafficking through enhanced intelligence gathering and coordinated investigations, arrests and prosecutions.

“It’s not enough to put our best resources into the fight against opioid addiction,” Astorino said. “They must be coordinated and that’s the idea behind the task force — to have Public Safety, the District Attorney, and local police all working together to get illegal opioids off the streets and arrest and prosecute the people selling them.”

Last month, Astorino announced the launch of Project WORTHY — Westchester Opioid Response Teams Helping You, an initiative that brings together the county’s health, mental health, and law enforcement resources, as well as broad-based business and community support to save lives and families put at risk by the opioid addiction. The County Department of Public Safety’s participation in this Task Force is an outgrowth of Project WORTHY.

Both Astorino and Scarpino noted that heroin and opioid abuse is a major and rapidly growing public health threat in the United States. In 2015, there were more than 52,000 deaths attributed to opioid abuse. Many of those were teenagers and young adults. Opioid fatalities in Westchester County increased more than 200 percent from 2010 to 2015.

They believe partnering together and pooling their resources is Westchester’s best bet to win the battle against the Westchester’s growing opioid epidemic.

“This epidemic is destroying too many of our young people and tearing families apart,” Scarpino said. “We know that solving this problem requires a combination of expanded education and treatment, additional drug courts, and an aggressive and coordinated investigative effort by all law enforcement agencies in the county. This Task Force will vigorously investigate and prosecute the suppliers in an effort to reduce the number of overdoses. At the same time, we will continue to support alternatives to incarceration for those who are willing to get the help they need.”

Scarpino said the Task Force would complement his Overdose Response Initiative (ORI), established last year in an effort to track, map and investigate all suspected accidental heroin and opioid overdose deaths in Westchester County. The goal is to determine the source of supply of the controlled substances that led to the victim’s death and to arrest and fully prosecute those responsible. The ORI works in collaboration with local police departments, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Westchester Intelligence Center, and the Westchester County Medical Examiner, and each overdose is treated as a crime scene. Certain data is then immediately reported to an Assistant District Attorney in the DA’s Narcotics Bureau. Until recently, overdoses treated as “accidental overdoses” were not investigated as potential homicides.

Scarpino said that one of the most effective results of the ORI has been the ability to identify potentially new, lethal “brands” of heroin and to distribute that information to all area law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and EMS departments.

“This allows for better medical response to overdose victims, as well as aiding in identifying the source of these newly created brands, and prosecuting these suppliers to the fullest extent of the law,” Scarpino said.

Specifically, the new Task Force will work to reduce heroin and opioid-related deaths by:

  • Analyzing, investigating and prosecuting heroin and opioid trafficking on a coordinated basis across Westchester,
  • Removing heroin and opioid dealers from our streets and county by putting the best law enforcement resources in the field and the courts,
  • Assisting local departments that lack the resources or otherwise have jurisdictional limitations to adequately investigate multi- jurisdictional trafficking on their own

Project WORTHY is one the latest efforts to grow out of the County Executive’s Safer Communities initiative, which was started in 2013 and has since tackled some of our most intractable problems, from developing safety protocols in our schools to protect against active shooters and terror attacks, to preventing youth suicide and examining the root causes of violence. The strategy in all these efforts is break down bureaucratic and geographic silos so that the county’s full array of public and private resources can be marshalled and coordinated in the most effective ways possible.

Photo: County Executive Robert P. Astorino (center) with District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr (right), Westchester County Commissioner of Public Safety George Longworth (left) and members of law enforcement.