In an effort to stem the tide of drug overdoses in north Georgia, the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office has developed a new plan.
"Until recently, we really did not have a problem in north Georgia with heroin or heroin overdose, but once we started recognizing that it was all around us, we began to formulate a plan and look at how we could best respond," Special Agent in Charge Mitchell Posey said.
One of the goals is to make heroin, fentanyl and their combination very unpopular in the region.
"This drug is costing people's lives. We're going to aggressively pursue anyone who sells this drug, and especially the combination of these two drugs," Posey said.
The plan, released this week, was unanimously approved by the ARDEO Control Board.
In drug overdose death cases, local member agencies will request ARDEO agents to respond. Agents will serve in a supporting role to lend technical expertise and other assistance. Death investigations related to overdoses will be investigated as homicides, according to Posey.
Agents will also respond to overdoses where the victim has been resuscitated.
"...a lot of EMA directors in our counties who made sure that EMS, firefighters and police officers had naloxone. A lot of these OD's have been reversed because of their fast actions through the medical treatment," Posey said.
In responding to those cases, agents will gather information to target the supplier or suppliers of drugs that resulted in the overdoses to disrupt or dismantle those organizations.
The plan also gives ARDEO member departments the option of partnering with the U.S. Attorney's Office to prosecute dealers who supply drugs that can be directly tied to an overdose death.
"Then there's a federal law that doesn't necessarily come under the homicide statute, but it comes more under their drug statute. There's an asterisk there that if because of the drug it results in a death or serious bodily injury, then they're able to add additional sentencing enhancers to that," Posey said.
While the new plan involves investigation, it also recognizes the state's 911 Medical Amnesty Law, according to Posey.
"We're not trying to deter anyone from bringing someone to the hospital or calling authorities to someone who is having an overdose," Posey said. "...and want to make sure that people understand that we're not targeting those who are seeking help. We're only targeting people who are peddling this drug."
ARDEO is made up of sheriff's offices in White, Lumpkin, Towns, Banks, Habersham, Stephens, Rabun and Franklin counties.
Other member agencies include the police departments in Cleveland and Lavonia along with the Georgia National Guard Counter Drug Task Force, the Department of Public Safety and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.