Drug dealers have to pay for heroin overdoses on their turf, says a Pennsylvania judge.
Allegheny County Judge Anthony Mariani has sentenced two convicted Pittsburgh drug dealers with probation conditions requiring them to pay directly to local EMS agencies $50 per brick of heroin found in their possession. This money will pay for the Narcan doses administered to overdose victims.
Narcan, also commonly known as Naxolone, is an opiate reversal agent that can save the life of someone acutely overdosing, reversing the effects of any opioid-based drug.
The rising prominence of heroin overdoses in western Pennsylvania prompted Mariani’s innovation, he said.
Allegheny County was ranked 12th in Pennsylvania for drug-related deaths in 2015, 70% of which were heroin-related, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Middle-aged, white males made up the majority of those deaths. Allegheny county saw a 37% increase from 2014.
Philadelphia, in comparison, ranked first in the state for drug-related deaths, but heroin accounted for a little more than half of the deaths.
Once on parole or probation, Andy Buxton will pay $2,650 to three EMS and ambulatory agencies in Mon Valley, Pennsylvania. Buxton pleaded not guilty, but continues to serve his sentence while waiting for an appeal. He was convicted of multiple counts, and was sentenced last week to seven to 14 years, said attorney Sumner Parker.
“I think it’s something people involved in drug trade need to realize. It may take hold and be another consequence they’ll have to deal with for putting poison on the streets,” Parker said.
A Naxolone kit with which an individual can administer a nasal injection during an overdose typically costs $75, said Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department.
Though Naxolone has been a staple tool for EMS for years, according to Hacker, Allegheny police departments just started carrying them within the last year after legislators recognized the heroin epidemic as a problem in need of state funding.
A previous case inspired Mariani to the idea that probation conditions may not be able to require drug dealers to administer Narcan to overdose victims, but could make them pay for it.
“A couple of weeks ago a man stood in front of me who overdosed on heroin twice in 48 hours and was brought back by Narcan. I told him he will reimburse EMS who saved him with the Narcan,” Mariani said.
Mariani on Tuesday similarly charged Larry Craig Richardson Jr. with a $1,250 reimbursement to the Ross/West View EMS-Rescue for the 25 bricks of heroin found in his car, according to court documents.
Richardson, convicted of possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, received a minimum sentence of five years, according to court documents. Richardson’s attorney declined to comment.
The extra cash could be a long-term solution to a short-term problem, Executive Director of Ross/West View EMS Brian Kircher said. Kircher said the money would offset costs of first responders, but was hesitant to praise the idea since the individuals are not required to pay the fees until after they serve their sentence.
Essentially, the check might not be in the mail for more than 10 years.
Kircher, who’s been serving with the EMS for 35 years, said he’s seen dramatic changes in drug use in the area.
“In the ’70s you didn’t see as much heroin and opioid-type narcotics as frequently as you do today. Some of that is the availability and the changes in the way we treat pain.”
He noted man-made opioid drugs are a big part of the problem he sees in western Pennsylvania.
Kircher’s EMS unit saw 107 overdoses in 2015 in the five boroughs and townships they serve in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh. In the first six months of this year, there have been 84, putting them on track to exceed 2015.
Mariani might spark a trend in judiciary punishment of convicted drug dealers.
This less common use of probation conditions is within Mariani’s rights as a judge, according to the executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, Mark Bergstrom. Bergstrom noted that the assignment of funds to a specific agency is something creative, and uncommon, in comparison to typical restitution fines that are typically just fed to a municipality’s general fund.
Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, declined to comment.