Queens had more suspected drug overdose deaths than murders in 2017, says DA Brown

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Fitting a citywide trend, major crimes substantially fell across Queens in 2017, but District Attorney Richard A. Brown is concerned about the escalating opioid crisis in the borough.

Just 50 murders occurred in Queens last year, the second-lowest number since the Kennedy administration, Brown said. However, the borough saw 172 suspected fatal drug overdoses — nearly a third of which involved fentanyl.

The synthetic drug, when mixed with heroin, results in “an opioid painkiller 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin,” according to Brown. Use of the deadly cocktail has risen nationwide, and Brown’s office has stepped up its efforts to combat the growing epidemic in Queens.

Brown said that prosecutors are now tracking individuals who sell drugs containing fentanyl, and the efforts led to one noteworthy pending criminal cases. A suspected drug dealer, Bernard Lewis of Astoria, was arrested in July on charges that he knowingly sold fentanyl-laced narcotics to individuals.

“My office commenced an investigation in response to two non-fatal overdoses attributed to the defendant,” Brown said. “He was charged with the crime of reckless endangerment, among other charges, for knowingly selling drugs laced with fentanyl in order to send a strong message to the community and drug traffickers alike that we are taking the city’s skyrocketing fentanyl-related overdose epidemic with the utmost seriousness.”

Court records indicate that Lewis remains in jail without bail; he is due back in court on Jan. 31.

Along with increasing investigative and prosecutorial efforts, Brown’s office is also taking other steps toward stemming the crisis, according to a spokesperson. The office has an active alternative sentencing program for misdemeanor drug offenders that links them to drug treatment and rehabilitation programs in lieu of prison sentences.

The opioid crisis is the latest challenge facing Brown as he enters his 27th year as Queens’ chief prosecutor. Since being appointed to the job in 1991, overall crime has dropped by 82 percent. Major crimes in 2017 dropped by 7.9 percent, including an 18 percent downturn in auto crimes, a 4.8 percent drop in robberies and a 3.1 percent decline in felony assaults.

Brown’s office handled more than 57,000 cases in 2017, and he boasted that his team maintains “the best arrest-to-arraignment time in the city, and [has] the best arrest-to-sworn complaint time, meaning that we are able to get our police officers back on the streets faster than any other borough.”

“I am optimistic that by continuing the very successful strategies that we have employed over the years, we, together with our law enforcement colleagues, can make Queens County even safer in 2018.”