CLEVELAND -- The U.S. attorney's office in Northeast Ohio is taking a more aggressive approach in targeting heroin dealers they think can be proven responsible for heroin overdose deaths.
It requires proving that the specific drug that killed the overdose victim can be linked directly to the dealer.
The tactic is being used in the case of an overdose death involving 34-year-old Roland Harmon of Akron.
Harmon overdosed on Christmas day 2012. He was found dead in a Green motel room.
Federal prosecutors announced indictments of 20 individuals involved in an alleged heroin and opiate pill ring.
Read more | 20 indicted in alleged Akron heroin ring
But they are going after Garland Phelps as a dealer who allegedly provided the heroin that killed Harmon.
Carole Rendon, first assistant U.S. attorney, discussed the new hardball tactic of adding a death specification, equivalent to manslaughter, to drug charges, more than doubling the possible sentence.
"You're looking at a 20-year mandatory sentence because your conduct led to this individual's death. ... It absolutely gives them something to think about. This is the strongest tool we have in drug laws to deal with this exact issue," she said.
The U.S. attorney's office sponsored a heroin summit, which came up with an action plan involving new initiatives in education, health care, treatment and law enforcement.
Rob Brandt of Medina is the father of 20-year-old Robbie Brandt. He served in the military, came home and got addicted to pills and heroin and took a deadly overdose.
Brandt strongly supports this tougher tactic by federal prosecutors. The drug dealer who supplied his son was never identified or caught, though Brandt unknowingly talked with him briefly on his son's phone.
"They know how to hook people. That's their game. They need to be held accountable for what their actions do. Their actions kill people. Their actions destroy families. There needs to be a level of accountability for that," he said.
Detectives in some Northeast Ohio communities now treat places where an overdose happened as potential crime scenes.
Rendon said, " They're looking at it as a murder scene."
Federal prosecutors hope to trace the heroin to Phelps, using the woman who supplied Harmon as a link.
She's already pleaded guilty to manslaughter in a case involving Harmon and another man who overdosed earlier in her presence under similar circumstances.
Cuyahoga County is expected to register 200 or more heroin overdose deaths in 2013. Summit County could wind up with 40 or more.