Heroin Problem Resurgent

By Johnson, Elizabeth | Sarasota Herald Tribune, March 29, 2015 | Go to article overview

Heroin Problem Resurgent


Johnson, Elizabeth, Sarasota Herald Tribune


OVERDOSES: Pills' decline has flip side, but sheriff feels better about this fight

SARASOTA COUNTY

The 27-year-old man was found dead on Feb. 24 inside a Walmart bathroom in East Bradenton. He had a history of heroin use. A small bag containing a white substance was recovered from the scene.

A child called their uncle on Jan. 6 because their 30-year-old mother was unresponsive. When the uncle arrived, he found the woman dead with a needle in her arm. He placed the needle in a drawer so the children wouldn't see it. Crime scene technicians took the syringe as evidence.

A 42-year-old man was released from jail on Jan. 11. The next day, his friend noticed he was lethargic and snoring loudly. He was found dead with a syringe, spoon and pill bottle containing three packages of heroin.

These are the details of three of the 15 suspected overdose deaths reported in unincorporated Manatee County this year.

Fifteen is an overwhelming number, especially in just a three- month period. In all of 2013, the 12th District Medical Examiner reported 19 heroin-related deaths in its tri-county area of Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto. In 2012, that number was seven. Only two were reported in both 2010 and 2011.

Detectives are responding to such scenes to find needles still in the arms of the deceased, but Lt. Darin Bankert of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office said he's seen that before.

"It's more the volume than anything else," Bankert said. "We had a guy at the gas station, parked at the gas pumps who overdosed sitting in the driver's seat. That's not something I've seen in the past. It's the volume. Two or three a day used to be unheard of."

But the incidents have tapered off this month. After 10 possible heroin overdoses were reported in February, none have been reported in March.

Two have been reported this month by the Sarasota Police Department, which has had four suspected heroin overdoses this year. The Bradenton Police Department has had three this year, while the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office has recorded only two.

Those 25 possible heroin overdoses across those four jurisdictions have not been confirmed. While they are suspected to be heroin-related because of the circumstances -- known history of heroin use or paraphernalia found at the scene -- toxicology reports that will shed more light on the deaths and confirm whether heroin played a fatal role are still pending at the Medical Examiner's Office.

Deadly ingredient

The disparity in numbers between bordering jurisdictions may have something to do with the ingredients of the heroin.

As suspected heroin deaths rose in Manatee County this year, Bankert said detectives were puzzled. Then the friend of one victim said the woman had purchased "China White," the street name for fentanyl-laced heroin.

"I thought we stumbled upon a revelation," Bankert said.

Initial tests by chemists at the Manatee County Sheriff's Office found fentanyl -- an opioid used to treat severe chronic pain -- in heroin found at several overdose scenes. Bankert said a chemist working in Sarasota County told a Manatee County chemist that they're "not seeing the same fentanyl in their heroin."

Fentanyl-laced heroin has taken off across the United States, with definite spikes noticed in the southwest and northeast.

The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a nationwide alert on March 18 on the dangers of fentanyl. The Schedule II narcotic that is used as an analgesic and anesthetic is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. It's lethal, even in small doses, the DEA warns.

"Fentanyl is particularly deadly," Bankert said. "It enhances the effects of the heroin. It's a cheap way to increase your product and it enhances the opiate."

While authorities are still investigating how the particularly lethal drugs are infiltrating southwest Florida, Bankert said the assumption is that fentanyl is more accessible in Mexico and being brought across the border for distribution throughout the U. …

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