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Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Heroin and Crime Initiative: Informing the Investigation and Prosecution of Heroin-Related Overdose, Research Abstract

NCJ Number
Daniel J. Flannery
Date Published
4 pages

This is the abstract of the Final Report of a research project that examined the features and effectiveness of the Heroin Involved Death Investigation (HIDI) protocol of Cuyahoga County, Ohio.


The HIDI protocol is designed to support a safe, coordinated, and rapid response to an active drug-overdose death scene. The protocol guides alerts sent to investigators to notify them of potential dangers (e.g., lethal drugs) and to facilitate the timely protection of the scene and collection of evidence. Potential benefits are to more quickly identify the drugs involved, provide clarity of ‘but for cause’ of death, and possibly link to the major drug trafficker who supplied them. The methodology of the evaluation of the features of the HIDI protocol is described. The study found that a collaborative system for alerting investigators, as well as protecting, collecting, and processing evidence from overdose scenes is essential for prosecuting drug traffickers. In addition, coding of information from medical examiner overdose-death scene investigations into accessible, analyzable, digital data enables investigators to look for patterns through geography, toxicology, and paraphernalia analysis that can draw direct connections between overdose victims, ’but for cause of death,’ and drug suppliers. Such data are now  being used to support investigations in Cuyahoga County, enabling identification of all deaths occurring about the same time where on-scene evidence includes the same type of paraphernalia, packaging, and/or drug. The urban nature of Cuyahoga County imposes limitations on the generalizability of some of the qualitative findings to rural and tribal areas. This project identified an innovative, collaborative system of data protection, collection, and flow that could be modified for implementation in other communities experiencing similar challenges.