Several low-level heroin and opioid dealers in Buffalo have been put out of business – at least for now.
Authorities suspect that some of the dealers may have sold fatal doses of their drugs, though at this point there is no evidence to back it up other than the growing body count in the opiate epidemic.
And that’s why police and public officials gathered Tuesday at Buffalo Police Headquarters to draw attention to the arrests.
“We know any packet of heroin can be a fatal dose,” acting Erie County District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr. said. “No dealer is too small.”
Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda also provided perspective on the immense impact low-level dealers can have in a community.
“We arrested street dealers last year who on average were getting 1,500 calls a day,” Derenda said.
And while it is challenging to link an overdose death to a particular dealer, the commissioner said it has been done on the federal level and it can be done on the local level.
“We’ve recently had another spike in overdose deaths. It seems we’re getting them every day and some of those who have been charged are probably responsible for the deaths,” Derenda said. “It’s a lot of work, but if we get the evidence that we can trace back to the source of a death, we can and we will charge them.”
There were 256 opioid-related deaths last year, more than double 2014’s overdose fatalities, and 2016 is on track to surpass 2015.
Flaherty said the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York supports proposed legislation that would create a special classification in state law aimed at drug dealers who are tied to fatal overdoses.
“The legislation would make it a separate crime for providing a lethal dose. It may sound crazy that it does not exist now but that is the reality in New York,” Flaherty said.
He also pointed out that while the latest arrests occurred in Buffalo, suburban residents often buy drugs in the city, return to their communities and then sell them there. The acting DA commended Mayor Byron W. Brown and Derenda for their commitment in going after drug dealers.
Brown vowed to work with the Common Council to provide city police with the resources required to continue to build cases against drug dealers, which is often a long and involved process.
“Let’s make no mistake, we will find you, we will arrest you and we will put you in jail,” Brown said. “We will not tolerate illegal drugs in our community.”
Seven people were arrested on charges alleging they sold drugs to Buffalo undercover narcotics detectives in an investigation that began in February and ended last week, Derenda said.
Arrested were Eddie U. Thomas, 24, of 878 Prospect Ave.; Christopher Brown, 28, of 88 Carl St.; Reynaldo Castro-Guzman, also known as Aurelio Castro-Lopez, 31, of 283 French St.; Jorge Ortiz, 53, address unavailable; Daniel Loster, 32, of 73 Manitoba St.; Joshua Negron, 22, of 506 Niagara St. and Latisa Harden, 34, of 91 Burgard Place, who unlike the others was accused of selling crack cocaine.
“This is not the end. We will continue to pursue street level dealers and their suppliers,” Flaherty said.
Assisting in providing SWAT teams for the arrests were the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and the Town of Hamburg Police Department. Assistant District Attorney Paul J. Williams III is the prosecutor.