Pubdate: Sun, 29 Mar 2015
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2015 Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Author: Elizabeth Johnson


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.S.

Pill users turn to heroin

Another possible explanation for the increase in suspected 
heroin-related deaths? More, inexperienced users.

While prescription pills haven't completely disappeared from from the 
drug overdose landscape, they have significantly decreased as the 
result of enforcement regulating access to prescription narcotics and 
shutting down pain clinics once called "pills mills."

"We knew we were going to see heroin," Sarasota County Sheriff Tom 
Knight said. "The price of the pill went up, so it's cheaper to get heroin."

Authorities used to see crack cocaine, then pills. Now, heroin is on the rise.

"To me, it looks like we are getting more heroin users and probably 
people who wouldn't be using heroin if pills were still around," 
Bankert said. "Non-traditional heroin users are turning to heroin."

It is possible that these users, who are unfamiliar with heroin, 
don't know the correct amounts to use to get a high but avoid death. 
The existence of more deadly heroin cut with fentanyl mixed with 
inexperienced users may explain the sudden increase.

"You can't take the same amount as if it was just heroin or heroin 
cut with something else like baking soda or dramamine," Bankert said.

Heroin, Knight said, is easier to control because it's illegal.

"It's simple to arrest for heroin," Knight said. "We would come 
across people who were addicted, but they had a script so we couldn't 
do anything about it."

To combat heroin, Knight said law enforcement agencies will need to 
track where heroin is being sold then transfer resources to shut it down.

"We move personnel to those area to displace, interrupt or end the 
issues," said Maj. Paul Richard of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.

Creative with pills

While much focus is shifting to heroin, Knight said enforcement is 
still needed with prescription drugs.

"We don't want people to believe prescription drugs aren't a problem 
anymore," Knight said. "We don't want a false sense of security. 
We're still combating the problem. We're not out of the woods."

The ordinance, as well as the cooperation of doctors and pharmacies, 
have been significant in the decrease in pills, but they are still accessible.

Richard, the sheriff's major, said people buy the medications online 
and go doctor shopping in other regions.

"People are becoming more desperate," Knight said. "They're selling 
and trading pills, becoming creative. There's always somebody who 
will test the system."

A Sarasota County woman was arrested earlier this year with 
prescription drug fraud after she allegedly got a prescription for 
Adderall from her daughter's doctor. Detectives learned that the 
woman had lost custody of her daughter, who did not receive the pills 
her mother received. When arrested, the woman reportedly told 
detectives that she sold the 30 Adderall pills for $7 each so she 
could buy roxicodone.

The most surprising case, though, was that of Michael Cramer, an 
18-year-old high school student who was caught allegedly selling 
drugs in a parking lot. Cramer was arrested Feb. 24. Deputies seized 
$4,300 in cash, 748 Alprazolam tablets, more than six pounds of 
marijuana and edibles containing THC, according to the Sarasota 
County Sheriff's Office.

"He was unusual," Richard said. "We knew it was tracking into 
Sarasota High and Riverview High. He was catering to high school 
students with marijuana and pills."

Knight called Cramer "advanced" with his "one-shop type of deal."

While prescription pills occasionally pop up, Knight said it is not 
nearly the problem it was years ago when he regularly had parents 
crying in his office after their child overdosed on pills.

Addicts are getting help through rehab, drug court and a recover pod 
at the jail. Metals thefts in which people would steal metal and sell 
it for drug money have significantly decreased.

"We're not out of the woods on pain pills, even though they've been 
reduced," Knight said. "The landscape has leveled more than changed. 
We feel good about where we're at, but we don't want to go back.

"You can't arrest your way out. This is a huge quality of life issue. 
We're keeping the pills were they belong and with the people who need them.

"We can handle the heroin."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom