Drug overdose deaths on the rise in St. Joseph County, prosecutor wants to hire drug commander

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By: Krystal Vivian kvivian@953mnc.com

Drug overdose deaths are on the rise in St. Joseph County and Prosecutor Ken Cotter believes a special investigation team will help stop them.

Cotter submitted a 2016 budget request to St. Joseph County officials that includes a $65,000 increase that would be the salary for a drug commander for the entire county, WSBT reported.

The drug commander would lead a unit of officers from South Bend, Mishawaka and St. Joseph County police departments to investigate overdose deaths and other drug-related crimes, similar to the St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit.

In 2013, 38 people died of drug overdoses, 43 in 2014 and 26 in the first sixth months of 2015, according to St. Joseph County Coroner’s Office data, WSBT reported.

Cotter believes that investigating the overdose deaths would lead to the prosecution of drug dealers, which could stop others from getting access to drugs and help families heal.

“I would say (in) almost every case, family says, ‘Why did this happen to my son? Why did this happen to my daughter? Can’t you go after the people (who provided the drugs…)'” Cotter told WSBT.

The prosecutor’s budget increase request is part of $4 million in increases that St. Joseph County officials are considering. The county budget was cut 3 percent in 2014 and 5 percent in 2015, but officials could consider a property tax increase to raise funds.