Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jan 2017
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2017 The Washington Post Company


The man responsible for more than two dozen heroin overdoses -- which
all occurred in one day in a state deemed the ground zero for the
opioid epidemic -- faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

Bruce Lamar Griggs, 22, pleaded guilty on Monday to distribution of
heroin, about six months after 26 people overdosed in Huntington, a
city in the southwest corner of West Virginia. The 911 calls came
within hours of one another, the majority of which concerned overdoses
in and around one apartment complex.

Federal prosecutors say Griggs, known as "Benz" or "Ben," admitted
supplying heroin to all 26 people, who overdosed immediately after
taking the drugs. Laboratory tests of blood and urine samples showed
traces not only of heroin, but also of fentanyl and carfentanil --
synthetic opioids that are exponentially more powerful than heroin or

Fentanyl, meant to treat severe pain, is 50 to 100 times as potent as
morphine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The drug is often mixed with heroin or cocaine, unknown to users.

[A young couple died of overdose, police say. Their baby died of
starvation days later.]

Carfentanil, used for tranquilizing elephants and other large mammals,
is 10,000 times as strong as morphine, according to the Drug
Enforcement Administration. Last year, the federal agency warned that
illegal use of carfentanil is becoming more common and has been linked
to a significant number of overdose deaths in the country.

Matt Boggs, executive director of Recovery Point of Huntington, said
the torrent of 911 calls Aug. 15 deeply alarmed a community already
ravaged by the opioid epidemic.

"To have such a significant amount of overdoses in one day is
indicative that the substance that's being sold is containing
something very, very poisonous," Boggs told The Washington Post. "It
was definitely alarming, and it really put the community in a state of
disbelief, a state of terror, almost."

West Virginia has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the

[Another parent's overdose, another child in the back seat: A 'new
norm' for drug users?]

In 2014, 627 drug-related deaths -- or 36 for every 100,000 people --
were reported in the state, according to the CDC. In 2015, that number
went up by nearly a hundred, to 725 deaths -- or 42 for every 100,000

In Huntington, a small city of about 49,000 people, deaths from drug
overdoses are nearly 10 times the national average. About 8,000
residents -- roughly 16 percent of its population -- are addicted to
drugs, most of which are opioids, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In December, President Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act, a law
that will provide $1 billion to states for research-based opioid
addiction treatment.

Griggs, of Akron, Ohio, will be sentenced in April.
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