October 22, 2021

DA backs legislation in wake of fatal ODs

The death of a Cortland man of an opioid overdose has spurred his mother to ask the state to adopt a law holding accountable the person who gave her son the drugs — a cause the county’s district attorney has taken up.

The bill, known as Laree’s Law for an Albany teen who died of an overdose, failed to come out of committee in 2018.

But after the death of Chace Bentley, his mother, Caterina Cook, is challenging the state to reintroduce the bill to the Legislature. Bentley, 24, of Cortland, died Jan. 12 of an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl, Cook said.

If passed, the bill would charge dealers with a homicide if the opioids they sold caused the death of people who used their drugs.

The charge would be a class A-1 felony, on par with murder or kidnapping.

“I find it frustrating that we have these drug dealers and the police know who they are but aren’t doing anything about it,” Cook said. “There has to be responsibility somewhere.”

When bail reform began last year, setting most non-violent suspects free without bail pending trial, District Attorney Patrick Perfetti predicted two things would happen in Cortland County: Overdoses would increase and self-enrollment into treatment facilities would decrease. He has seen both.

“With opioid deaths not diminishing, I’m trying to get this measure enacted by the law,” Perfetti said. “This year alone, there have been four deaths in the county.”

The major problems experienced in recent years due to opioid addiction and abuse have been nothing short of tragic, said state Sen. Peter Oberacker (R-Maryland).

“I believe a comprehensive approach is needed to heal our communities,” he said. “And I stand ready to work with our police and district attorneys to give them the tools they need to improve public safety and save lives.”

Drug dealers who prey on others must be taken off the streets and punished severely, he said.

Perfetti said he is unsure if the legislation will pass this time around.

“There are certain factions in the Legislature that might be resistant to enacting laws that are tougher on crime,” Perfetti said. “But given the epidemic in the country and this state, I would hope that our state Legislature can come together to pass a common sense legislation that will address the opioid epidemic and the problems caused by overdoses.”