DEA targets heroin by investigating overdoses

Posted at 7:20 PM, Dec 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-03 09:09:50-05

The Drug Enforcement Administration in Phoenix has released a new approach for how to fight heroin.

"We are going after these street level dealers in addition to the major traffickers," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman. 

The DEA created the Heroin Enforcement Action Team to attack the problem from both sides.

"To have an impact a little differently from what DEA usually does, which is go after the biggest drug dealers. We want to find out who was the guy that gave that lethal dose of heroin," said Coleman

The program would have first responders and law enforcement alert DEA every time they respond to an overdose call.

The new approach is a relief to Rhonda Downey, whose son died of a heroin overdose.

"It's like handing a child a loaded gun, all it takes is one time," said Downey.

But if you ask the head of the DEA in Arizona, heroin is worse than loaded weapon.

"We have more deaths from drug overdose than from car accidents or firearm related crimes every year," said Special Agent in Charge Doug Coleman, DEA.

Rhonda Downey's son Kyle is one of the many lives lost to heroin. He died of an overdose in 2014. He was 23.

"It's obviously the worst day of my life. It still doesn't feel real," said Downey. "He was clean 9-months prior to the day he died."

Since the case was a drug overdose, there was little investigation by law enforcement.

"The shock made my angry, I wanted someone to pay for what happened to him," said Downey. "There's a lot you can follow up with an overdose."

She had so many questions: What drug? Why did her son decide to use again? But most importantly, who supplied him with the heroin? So Rhonda did her own investigation.

"It's amazing what you can find out about someone by their cell phone," said Downey.

She was able to figure out who was selling drugs to her son and passed along that information to police.

Information from family members is a big part of the DEA's new initiative.

"It could happen to them at any time, it doesn't discriminate. They need to look at it in the big picture and see that they could save lives," said Downey.

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