A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh has indicted a Washington County man on four counts of drug offenses related to trafficking heroin laced with the painkiller fentanyl, U.S. Attorney David Hickton announced Tuesday.
Ronald Milliard, 24, of Washington was allegedly involved in the distribution of heroin that was tied to at least two overdoses in Washington County in August, according to Hickton. The county has been wracked by 222 overdoses and 33 overdose deaths since that month. Twenty-seven overdoses fell within a two-day span.
According to a recent Drug Enforcement Administration report, Washington County was the site of 37 overdose deaths in all of 2014. The county experienced 73 total drug overdose deaths in 2015, according to the county coroner’s yearly report, nearly doubling from year to year.
The spike in overdoses has spurred changes in the way law enforcement combats the region’s heroin problem, said Hickton. His office and local law enforcement have begun to collect data on all reported overdoses, whether or not charges will be leveled.
“(We want) to get all the information we need on the stamp bags, the cell phones (and) the identification of the dealers," Hickton said. "All that will help us do a better job in investigating these cases.”
To help with data compilation, the U.S. attorney called on the public to report all cases of overdoses, though he noted that in the past, some families have been reluctant to do so because of the stigma and perceived “shame” of drug addiction.
“As a result, you’d see press reports of someone the age of 25 years old who would be listed as dying without a cause or dying of natural causes, and that’s just unacceptable,” Hickton said. “We can’t solve this problem by hiding the evidence that we need.”
He said his office is training police officers, firefighters and paramedics across the 25 counties of his western Pennsylvania jurisdiction to standardize the way they collect overdose information.
Hickton said the huge rise in overdoses is due to the collision of two major addiction issues: street heroin and the country’s “pill problem.”
“We have bathed the country in opioids, and people are getting addicted,” he said. “This has converged with the street heroin problem, and, as of 2009, drug poisoning passed traffic accidents as the leading cause of death in the country.”
Drug overdoses have been surging in other local counties as well. According to the University of Pittsburgh’s OverdoseFreePA project, the number of fatal overdoses in Allegheny County have multiplied more than threefold over the past 15 years, from 109 in 2000 to 349 last year.