- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Western Pennsylvania’s top federal prosecutor has begun his tour of 25 counties as the region battles a heroin overdose epidemic.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton on Tuesday morning was visiting Washington County, where there been 222 overdoses since August, including 33 fatalities. Thirty-six of those who survived in the county were treated with Narcan by police or paramedics, Hickton said.

The county is one of two hit by more than 30 non-fatal overdoses in recent weeks.

Hickton, who was joined by District Attorney Eugene Vittone, announced charges against a man accused of supplying some of the heroin that caused at least two of 27 overdoses in a two-day span last August. Then he was to spend the day helping to train local police in a new effort to combat overdoses by gathering better information from addicts and their families.

“Our plan is centered around analyzing every overdose,” Hickton said. “That’s how we marry public health and public safety.”

In the past, police typically focused more attention on fatal overdoses and were reluctant to act on information provided by addicts and their loved ones after non-fatal overdoses.

“Historically, I think they felt, ‘What could an addict tell them about a case?’” Hickton said.

But police are now encouraged to gather information from non-fatal overdose scenes, including any street brand names found on empty stamp bags, and any information from the addict’s phone that might help authorities identify dealers.

Police are being trained to enter that information onto forms that will be processed by a so-called Fusion Center in Cranberry Township, north of Pittsburgh. That’s where the FBI and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents will analyze the data for overdose patterns, hoping to identify super-potent heroin batches that lead to groups of overdoses and the dealers behind them, Hickton said.

Hickton earlier this month announced the new analytical approach after Washington and nearby Cambria counties reported more than 30 non-fatal overdoses in a few days. Lab tests have shown most of the heroin responsible was laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic painkiller.

No federal charges have been announced in connection with those overdoses, but on Tuesday Hickton announced that a 24-year-old Washington County man, Ronald McMillian, has been indicted on charges he supplied drugs that led to two of the non-fatal overdoses in August. The main charge McMillian faces, distributing heroin resulting in serious bodily injury, carries 20 years to life in prison upon conviction.

McMillian already is jailed in Washington County on state drug and parole violation charges. Online court records don’t list an attorney for him on the federal charges.

McMillian is scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate in Pittsburgh on March 9 to answer to the new overdose charges.

___

This story has been corrected to show the defendant’s name is Ronald McMillian, not Ronald Milliard.

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