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Acting US Attorney: treat every drug overdose death as homicide

Mike Desmond/WBFO News

A Buffalo man, charged with selling two fatal heroin mixture overdoses, could face life in prison.

Aaron McDuffie, 22, faces a string of criminal counts growing out of the overdoses of a Cheektowaga man in 2015 and of a West Seneca man in 2016. The names of the victims were not released.

"He's also charged with possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes," Acting Western District U.S. Attorney James Kennedy announced.

"Those offenses carry a 20-year mandatory minimum term of imprisonment and a maximum of life imprisonment."

While law enforcement officials are looking to prosecute drug dealers connected with fatal overdoses, they admit proving such cases can be difficult. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Wei Xiang, a variety of leads need to be followed before a connection can be made.

"It does also involve the leg work of finding friends, other users," Xiang explained. 

"They don't often use alone. There's oftentimes introductions made. There's also circumstances beyond what is, say, a flat scene. There are other people."

Last week, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn filed criminal charges in a similar case. Kennedy acknowledged that he and Flynn have been talking about how to handle these cases and which legal system will allow the best prosecution and sentencing.

First responders are now being asked to treat every overdose death as a murder.

"That's what we're working toward and that's what we are starting to achieve in some of these cases, to allow us to bring these prosecutions," Kennedy said, "but it is dependent heavily on scientific evidence, toxicology reports, pharmacological reports and the like."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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