October 21, 2021

Effort seeks stiffer charges for drug dealers in fatal ODs

Jamie Costa/staff reporter

Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti addresses an event Saturday in Cortlandville with Trina Cook, whose son, Chace Bentley, died Jan. 12 of a fentanyl-related opioid overdose. Perfetti is lobbying to introduce to the state Legislature a bill to make the act of selling drugs that cause someone’s death a homicide.

Dozens of people gathered at a Cortlandville lot Saturday sharing stories of their loved ones who died of overdoses in Cortland County.

The event, named “Chace the Change,” was hosted by Trina Cook, the mother of Chace Bentley, 24, who died Jan. 12 of a fentanyl-related opioid overdose.

Cook is working with Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti to lobby for the reintroduction of Laree’s Law, which would charge drug dealers with homicide if the opioids they sold caused someone’s death.

“This important event brings public awareness to what we are trying to do,” Perfetti said. “Hopefully, we can get the support in Albany that’s needed to get laws passed that allow district attorneys to pursue drug dealers for the harm that they’re causing to individuals and our communities.”

Cortland police report they responded to 55 opioid overdoses in Cortland last year, up from 48 in 2019 and more than twice as many as in 2017.

In January, the county saw seven overdoses, including Bentley.

Perfetti plans to meet with Assembly Member Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) on March 15 to discuss the bill, but he noted the first step in getting a bill passed is getting the bill seen, and this can take a year’s work.

“To get this bill moving along, you need to engage with your state and county legislatures,” Perfetti told the crowd Saturday. For Cortland County, that would be Sen. Peter Oberacker (R-Maryland) and Kelles, he said.

“To me, it’s such a common-sense bill,” Pefetti said. “It’s something that should transcend party lines and party affiliations.”

Residents and families challenged Perfetti.

“We should be more compassionate and give them a kind word every now and then,” said Amy Duff, while calling to discourage stigma and judgment surrounding addiction. “We have to work together and we have to work with the addicts, too.”

Perfetti, as district attorney, introduced the Angel Program to Cortland. It began in 2019, allowing drug users to surrender themselves, their drugs and paraphernalia to city police and ask for treatment. If the person does not have any warrants and detainers, the police officer will contact an “angel,” who will sit with the participant until that person is taken to Helio Health clinic for treatment.