INTERNATIONAL DRUG OVERDOSE AWARENESS DAY: 80 FATAL DRUG OVERDOSES IN ATLANTIC COUNTY TO DATE IN 2020


MAYS LANDING- On International Drug Overdose Awareness Day the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office Drug Related Death (DRD) Investigation Squad reports 80 drug-related deaths (DRD) to date in 2020, in Atlantic County, Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner announced.

In August 2019, Atlantic County saw 86 drug-related deaths in the county.

“The numbers show that we are not reporting as many drug related deaths to date in 2020, compared to one year ago, but 6 less fatal drug overdoses is not good enough and tells us that we still have work to do. As the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of Atlantic County I will not be satisfied until we can report zero fatal overdoses in this county,” Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said.

The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office currently has four DRD cases that have been charged.

The pending cases are as follows:

1)         State v. Frank Vitalo & Anthony Wood (Indicted)

2)         State v. Brian Whitted & Emery Chapman (charged but not indicted due to COVID-19 and no Grand Jury)

3)         State v. Kevin Green (Indicted)

4)         State v. David Ayala (Indicted)

Since 2018, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office Drug Related Death (DRD) Investigation Squad has charged 10 individuals with Strict Liability for Drug-Induced Death, a crime of the First Degree.

“Today, on International Overdose Awareness Day, I would like to remember all of those who have succumbed to their addiction, and all of their family members and friends who struggled along with them.  Nationally, overdose incidents have increased despite the pandemic.  Substance abuse robs our society of too many people who had so much potential.  Instead of taking drugs, I want to encourage all of those who may have a substance abuse problem to “give life a shot.”  Now, more than ever, there are so many opportunities to seek assistance,” said Prosecutor Tyner.

A charge for strict-liability homicide for drug induced death carries a presumptive sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison.   It requires a lengthy and thorough investigation that involves concluding that a particular drug was the cause of death and that the suspect was the person who distributed to the victim. Authorities must rely on laboratory and medical examiner analyses, which can take as long as six months. In the event that evidence ultimately does not support a homicide charge, the unit is able to act quickly to get a potentially deadly batch of drugs off the street and often will charge dealers with other distribution-related crimes, which can carry significant sentences in their own right.

The primary mission of the ACPO-DRD Squad is to assist local agencies with death investigations in cases when the cause of death is suspected to be an overdose of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). Suspects believed to have been responsible for providing the decedent with the fatal CDS will be investigated for the crime of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-9, Strict Liability for Drug-Induced Death, a crime of the First Degree. It is through the cooperation between responding Officers, investigating Detectives, and members of the ACPO-DRD Squad that these cases are promptly investigated and the integrity of the investigations are maintained.

There is a two-pronged focus to the ACPO-DRD Squad: prevention, by getting apparently deadly drugs off the street as soon as possible, and enforcement, by determining who distributed the drugs and charging them with homicide if and when possible. Every single case is reviewed by a detective, a supervisor and an assistant prosecutor.

August 31, 2020, is International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event that aims to raise awareness that overdose death is preventable and to reduce the stigma associated with drug-related death. Goals also include providing information about risk for overdose and community services and preventing drug-related harm through evidence-based policy and practice.

The opioid overdose epidemic, which killed 47,600 U.S. persons in 2017,* substantially expanded in 2013 driven by rapid increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (excluding methadone), particularly illicitly manufactured fentanyl.† Cocaine and methamphetamine overdose deaths co-involving synthetic opioids also rapidly increased during this period (1).

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Anyone with information involving serious crimes is asked to call the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office at 609-909-7800 or go to the Prosecutor’s Office Web site at http://www.acpo.org/tips.html and provide information by filling out the form anonymously on the Submit a Tip page.

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