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SD prosecutor out to track down dealers of opioids in overdoses

SIOUX FALLS—An Illinois woman faces a mandatory 20 years in prison after being indicted on charges of selling heroin to a southeast South Dakota man who overdosed and died, as the U.S. attorney's office issues a stern warning to drug dealers.

Stephanie Broecker, 26, of Rockford, Ill., has been indicted on charges of distribution of heroin resulting in death. The 30-year-old victim, identified only as K.P. in court documents, died of an apparent heroin overdose in Miner County last November.

Broecker was arrested in Illinois and is awaiting transfer to South Dakota.

U.S. Attorney for South Dakota Ron Parsons said in a statement released Monday, April 16, that an effort is underway with the U.S. Department of Justice, working closely with local and state officials, to combat opioids by prosecuting drug dealers to hold them accountable for the deaths or serious injuries of overdose victims.

Under federal law, Parsons said anyone who provides a controlled substance to another person who then overdoses is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 20 years in federal prison.

Parsons said the Miner County overdose death is "a senseless tragedy that we have lost another life because of illegal drugs. The opioid epidemic has inflicted an unprecedented toll of addiction, suffering and death on communities throughout our nation, and South Dakota has not been untouched. By holding drug dealers directly accountable for the devastation they cause, we help bring some measure of justice to their victim's loved ones and send a powerful message that these crimes will not be tolerated."

Parsons said the U.S. faces the deadliest drug crisis in history. In 2016, approximately 64,000 Americans — the equivalent of almost one-third of the population of Sioux Falls — lost their lives to drug overdoses, the fastest increase and highest drug death toll in American history, the prosecutor said. For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdose is now the leading cause of death, he said. This plague is being driven primarily by opioids — prescription painkillers, heroin, and synthetic drugs like fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin. Ingesting even a small amount of fentanyl can result in death.

In South Dakota, there were 67 overdose deaths in 2016, the latest year in which statistics are available, with more than half classified as opioid poisoning.

In the past month, there were at least three heroin or fentanyl overdose deaths in Sioux Falls, an indication the trend isn't diminishing.

Crime scenes

Parsons said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed all U.S. attorneys to use every available tool to combat this deadly epidemic.

As part of that effort, the South Dakota district has designated an assistant U.S. attorney to serve as the opioid coordinator to implement strategies to combat opioids, with a strong focus on prosecuting cases involving prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl.

During the past several months, federal prosecutors have been meeting and working with law enforcement agencies across the state to help investigate incidents of overdose, trace the source of the drugs up the chain of distribution, and bring either federal or state charges against those responsible for selling or providing the drugs.

Besides the Broecker case, Parsons said many more such investigations are in progress across the state.

"Every overdose should be considered a crime scene," Parsons said. "Dealers or anyone else who illegally diverts or provides drugs to another should know that any time there is an overdose, we are going to come looking for you. You will be arrested, you will be charged, and you will be held accountable."

Coordinating strategies

On Wednesday, April 18, Parsons will be appearing at the joint conference of the South Dakota Police Chiefs' Association and South Dakota Sheriffs' Association in Deadwood to discuss coordinated strategies to combat this drug epidemic.

"Our state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners do a tremendous job in investigating these crimes," he said. "My orders are to do everything we can to support them at the federal level and provide additional tools for ensuring that these criminals who are poisoning our communities are stopped."

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