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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The opioid crisis began with a flood of prescription pills across the United States. North Alabama hasn’t been spared.

“From the pill situation, doctors would prescribe, and then people started breaking them down and using them that way,” said Eddie Houk, chief deputy for the Madison County Sheriff`s Office. “And then it got to the point where it got too expensive, and so they went to heroin.”

As deadly as heroin can be, it’s worse now with the addition – sometimes – of the extremely potent synthetic painkiller Fentanyl.

And there are no warning labels.

“What they’re ingesting in their system is not what they bargained for,” said Bob Becher, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.

The problem remains widespread.

“We’re out every day trying to track this stuff down, but just the sheer volume is pretty big,” Houk said.

The volume of drugs, some combined with the potentially deadly additives, makes for a dangerous environment for users.

“There are two or three overdoses – a day – just in the Madison County area,” Becher sad.

So law enforcement and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama — in an effort led by U.S. Attorney Jay Town and  Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Becher — decided on a new approach.

If there is news of an overdose, Madison County area law enforcement agencies begin an investigation.

“Now, law enforcement is treating that scene as a crime scene,” Becher said.

And, federal prosecutors have the legal equivalent of a hammer in their arsenal.

“There is a federal statute that allows us to prosecute somebody for providing a controlled substance that causes death or serious bodily injury,” Becher said. “And if convicted you’re facing 20 years to life. And that’s federal time, there’s no parole in the federal system.”

Becher said the cases aren’t easy to bring , but it’s the right thing to do.

“If I can think that by doing this I have saved somebody, from having to bury their child, who was 20-years-old, then what more motivation do I need?”