Cuyahoga County

Northeast Ohio heroin traffickers being injected with new legal weapon: manslaughter charges

Desperate for a solution to the heroin epidemic, prosecutors have started holding drug dealers responsible for their clients’ overdose deaths.

Michael Zusman, a 25-year-old Mentor man, was sentenced last month to 121/2 years in prison. A jury convicted him of injecting 22-year-old Concord Township resident Danielle Spisak with heroin in May 2013 and then not calling 911 as she lay dying at his home.

Zusman was the first dealer in Lake County to be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

‘Nothing else seems to be working’

At Zusman’s sentencing, Lake County Common Pleas Judge Vincent A. Culotta said although victims share some responsibility for their choices, he believes tougher charges are a step in the right direction.

“If the dealers want to peddle this poison, they should deal with the consequences as well,” Culotta said. “We should hold them responsible, because nothing else seems to be working.”

In 2013, there were 37 opiate deaths in Lake County, according to the county Coroner’s Office.

In Cuyahoga County, heroin deaths have increased roughly 400 percent in the past seven years and are now more frequent than the number of people killed by guns.

In 2007, there were 40 fatal heroin overdoses in the county vs. 195 in 2013, according to the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty’s office began prosecuting heroin dealers for involuntary manslaughter in January.

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