Breaking News
More () »

How are prosecutors putting fentanyl dealers behind bars? Using a law passed after a basketball player's death

The fentanyl epidemic has cost thousands of lives throughout the U.S. And Some families have called for reforms to hold drug dealers responsible.

ARIZONA, USA — The fentanyl epidemic has cost thousands of lives throughout the US.

Including the life of Alexander Neville.

“He loved fishing. He was so passionate about fishing,” Amy Neville, Alexander's mom, said.

As Amy looked through a picture book filled with images and memories of her beloved son, she said they felt like they were from a different time, a different world.

“It’s like a dream. Like it was this dream that this kid was part of my life. I don’t. It’s so hard to explain.” Amy Neville said.

Two years ago, Alexander bought what he thought was oxycodone on Snapchat. However, the pills were laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl. To this day, the dealer has never been held responsible.

“The person who sold drugs to Alex is not held accountable at all. In fact, he is connected to at least three other deaths,” Amy said.

Amy is not alone. Prosecuting the dealers involved can be difficult. However, some federal cases have led to long prison sentences for dealers.

“Usually, the challenge is narrowing down that it was that one person’s drug that killed someone,” Stefani Hepford, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, said.

Hepford prosecutes many fentanyl-related cases. She said prosecutors use the Anti-Drug Act of 1986, more commonly known as the "Len Bias Law," to go after dealers.

The law passed shortly after University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias died from cocaine, two days after being drafted second overall by the Boston Celtics.

The law can put dealers away for decades if the government can prove a dealer sold a deadly drug.

Last month, a judge sentenced a Tuscon dealer to 15 years in prison. He admitted to selling fentanyl pills for $30 bucks that killed a young woman.

“Everybody needs that hard piece of evidence, and some of these cases just don’t have it,” Amy said.

Unfortunately for Amy, the hard evidence may no longer exist. Messages on Snapchat are often temporary and disappear. However, she said going after dealers is just one step.

“If we were to get justice in Alex’s case, that would mean he’s not killing anyone else, but there are other drug dealers,” Amy said.

We can't prosecute our way out of this problem," Hepford said. "We have to have prevention. We have to have treatment."

Amy wants law enforcement to investigate fentanyl cases as homicides, not overdoes.

She also warned that victims of the drug could be deceived. Dealers can sell other drugs that may be laced with fentanyl to make them more potent.

Up to Speed

Catch up on the latest news and stories on the 12News YouTube channel. Subscribe today.

Before You Leave, Check This Out