Pubdate: Wed, 17 Aug 2005
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2005 The New York Times Company
Author: Michael Wilson
Note: Colin Moynihan, William K. Rashbaum and Marc Santora 
contributed reporting for this article.
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methadone)
Bookmark: (Youth)


The police and health officials are investigating the deaths of six 
people who they say appear to have overdosed on heroin in Lower 
Manhattan in the last week, prompting fears that a lethal batch of 
opiates is being sold in New York City.

The victims include two 18-year-old college students found 
unconscious in an East Houston Street apartment on Friday, as well as 
homeless men. The police are investigating whether the six people 
possibly obtained tainted drugs from the same source, and health 
workers and police officers have been sent into the streets to warn the public.

Four of the six people died within blocks of each other on the Lower 
East Side. Two men were found in nearby neighborhoods: a 37-year-old 
found dead in a portable toilet near Pier 54 on the West Side on 
Saturday and a 42-year-old found dead Monday in a storage facility in SoHo.

The medical examiner is conducting toxicology tests on the six bodies 
to determine what, if any, drugs the victims used and whether the 
drugs were laced with a poison or, conversely, whether they were so 
pure and strong as to be lethal. The tests could be completed by the 
week's end, said a spokeswoman for the medical examiner's office.

"We are taking steps to locate and isolate the source and arresting 
whoever may be behind it," said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly 
at a news conference yesterday. "That includes conducting thorough 
debriefings of anyone arrested recently for trafficking or using 
heroin or other hard drugs, interviewing relatives and friends of the 
deceased for any leads, and talking to all of our confidential drug 
informants throughout the city."

The two women, Mellie Nicole Carballo of Manhattan, a student at 
Hunter College, and Maria Pesantez of Queens, a student at New York 
University, were found unconscious on Friday evening after spending a 
day in an apartment with two older men. The men have told 
investigators that the group had been taking drugs together, the police said.

The commissioner stressed that the investigation was just beginning, 
and that until toxicology tests were completed on the six people, it 
remains unknown whether there is any connection. "In this case, I 
don't believe there is such a thing as using too much caution," Mr. Kelly said.

A police official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of 
the pending investigation, said: "There is nowhere near a connection 
yet, except for the two girls. The others, it's location and timing." 
The official added that no evidence indicated that if the six people 
had bought drugs, they had bought them from the same source.

The announcement by the police stood out in a city with 900 
heroin-related deaths a year, marking a sweeping official reaction to 
the downtown deaths.

Mark Gerse, a deputy executive director with the Lower East Side Harm 
Reduction Center, an outreach and needle-exchange center on Allen 
Street, spent Monday and yesterday visiting addicts and passing out 
hundreds of fliers. "Caution. Bad dope/coke?" the flier reads in 
part. "Please use with caution. Don't trust any dealers with your life."

There may be more deaths, Mr. Gerse said, adding that he knew of a 
man who had overdosed in the last few days who was not included on 
the police list. Another man who was visiting the center said he knew 
of another case. The police said other possible overdose cases were 
being investigated.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city's health commissioner, said 
yesterday: "Further investigation will be undertaken to look for 
additional possible cases. We have not at this point found any."

Earlier this year, six patients in New York City hospitals were 
treated after snorting heroin laced with clenbuterol, an illegal drug 
used to increase lean body mass in cattle. In those cases, the 
patients developed anxiety and palpitations or chest pain, but the 
doses were not fatal.

In June, officials in Rockland County announced that a lethal batch 
of heroin might have caused six deaths there and in New Jersey and 
Pennsylvania. In those cases, some of the victims had used drugs 
marked with the street names "Ray Charles" and "Kiss of Death." A 
"Kiss of Death" stamp was found at a large heroin seizure in the 
Bronx yesterday, the police said, although they did not connect the 
seizure to the six deaths.

New York City police are investigating any connection between this 
week's cases and the earlier ones.

None of the deaths in the last week have been linked to heroin with a 
street name, Mr. Kelly said. In only one case was packaging found, 
two clear envelopes in the portable toilet at Pier 54.

Grim portraits of the lives of the dead men emerged yesterday.

On Saturday afternoon, a passer-by noticed a foot sticking out of a 
portable toilet on Pier 54 at Hudson River Park. The police 
discovered the body of Charles Sicker, 37, whose last known address 
was on Eighth Avenue not far from where his body was found.

The case was initially reported as a cardiac arrest, but a syringe 
was found on the floor of the toilet, and the case was listed as a 
possible overdose. Investigators from the Sixth Precinct believe that 
Mr. Sicker was in the portable toilet overnight, the police said.

A police official said Mr. Sicker was arrested about a dozen times, 
mostly for not paying for subway fares. His most recent arrest was in October.

Last Wednesday, a roommate found Christopher Korkowski, 24, of 223 
Avenue B, dead in his apartment. He had worked as a hairdresser, and 
his friends were surprised to hear he might have used heroin, said 
Emily Hollis, 24, a bartender and friend. "There is like a vacancy," 
she said. "Nothing's the same anymore."

On Friday, Ivan Rivera, 25, was found dead at 238 East Seventh 
Street, an apartment building where he used to live with five 
siblings until they moved away, friends said yesterday. In recent 
months he had been homeless, living on the roof of the building, said 
Pedro Roman, 20, a friend.

"If I knew he was messed up like that I would have tried to take care 
of him," Mr. Roman said. But friends said he looked bad the past 
month or two, losing weight and developing a jaundiced appearance.

In another of the six deaths, a body found on Monday in a Manhattan 
Mini Storage facility at 260 Spring Street was identified by the 
police as that of Anatoli Filistovich, 42, who they said was homeless.

The deaths come as the authorities say they are seeing an increase in 
heroin usage and seizures around the city, said Bridget G. Brennan, 
the special narcotics prosecutor whose office handles drug 
prosecutions around the city. "It's kind of alarming and it's 
suggested to us that there is a higher level of heroin use out 
there," Ms. Brennan said.

Health officials believe that alerting the public is helpful, even if 
there are few facts, because it will encourage doctors and emergency 
room workers to be on guard. It will also give some warning to drug 
users. After the recent deaths, health workers visited all of the 
city's methadone clinics, about 100, as well as the syringe exchange 
programs, and the 41 inpatient and outpatient detoxification centers 
where addicts go to recover.
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