Why teenagers across the country are finding love in heroin

Illustration: Richard Chance

Vicki Allendorf noticed that her oldest son Zachary was losing weight. “Mom, I’ve just been working out,” he’d say. But Allendorf, who is Midwestern-nice with a big pinch of Type A, knew that her skater son was no gym rat. “He looked gaunt,” she said. In the early 2000s, drinking and partying was how kids typically passed the time, especially in small cities on the edge of the Mississippi River. Around 2008, opioids like OxyContin, and eventually heroin, spread across the Midwest. …

On April 9, a Florida public defender persuaded a judge to drop a first-degree murder case against his client related to a fentanyl overdose last fall.

The case involves Christopher Toro, 30, who is accused of selling illicit fentanyl that resulted in the overdose death of 32-year-old Alfonso Pagan in September 2017. Seminole County prosecutors originally charged Toro with murder “which resulted from the unlawful distribution” of opium and its derivatives.

Seminole County attorney Nick Kramperth’s basis for the motion to dismiss his client’s murder charge was twofold: Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid — it is not made from opium…

A billboard in Broome County, NY (DA Steve Cornwell / Twitter)

In August 2017, 29-year-old Richard Gaworecki of Union, New York trembled as a Johnson City Village Court judge read charges that included selling heroin that led to the death of Nicholas McKiernan, 26, that July.

About one month later, Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell, assisted by his first ever “overdose investigator,” upgraded Gaworecki’s charges to include second-degree manslaughter. For Gaworecki, the manslaughter charge meant that he faced 14 years in prison instead of four.

“Whenever we can, we separate out dealers and users,” Cornwell said. “That’s the goal. But when someone is selling drugs that kill somebody, then they…

Activists from Vocal-NY protesting New York City drug policy (Photo VOCAL-NY)

Local activists are set to gather at New York’s City Hall today, urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to end his silence on the idea of the city opening a supervised injection facility, a medical setting for safely injecting drugs. Organized by VOCAL-NY, a nonprofit grassroots organization, the coalition of activists and drug users are calling out what they view as the city’s “war on drugs” approach to a worsening overdose crisis that currently kills one city resident every seven hours.

“We want to call attention to the mayor’s inaction and silence on safe consumption spaces,” Jeremy Saunders, co-director of VOCAL-NY…

Credit: Scott Olson / Getty

President Trump’s 2019 budget proposal, released Monday, requests nearly $30 billion for drug control. The majority of that funding is slated for law enforcement and an $18 billion border wall, with the purported dual purpose of stopping the flow of immigrants and illicit drugs from entering the country.

The budget requests $2.2 billion in funding for the Drug Enforcement Administration, $400 million more than two years ago. Both the immigration and DEA funding are meant to attack the supply side of illegal drug trafficking. …

A Facebook post by the girlfriend of Frederick Adami’s cellmate in Bucks County Prison. Adami died in his cell. (Facebook)

Frederick Adami, a 52-year-old resident of Morrisville, Pennsylvania, died from apparent opioid withdrawal early in the morning on Sunday, January 28, while in custody at the Bucks County Correctional Facility.

Adami’s cellmate, Bruce Gramiak Jr., made a phone call to his girlfriend, Melissa Weitzel, the night before Adami’s death to tell her that his cellmate was displaying symptoms of opioid withdrawal. “We’ve talked every day since he’s been inside and on Saturday night, he said he got a new cellmate who was in really bad shape,” Weitzel, who lives in Bensalem, told In Justice Today. …

Mayor de Blasio (@NYCMayor) on Twitter

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear filed lawsuits last week against several pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma and McKesson Corporation, that manufacture and distribute opioid pain relievers, alleging that they are getting rich to the tune of $13 billion annually from an overdose crisis that kills 120 people each day.

“By suing Big Pharma, we will make them pay for the lives they’ve destroyed,” Mayor de Blasio tweeted on January 23. “We’ll force them to change their behavior and stop endangering Americans. This is a health emergency and New York City will hold…

Caleb Smith and Amanda Leach (Facebook)

Caleb Smith was an overwhelmed but idealistic 26-year-old with a master’s degree in biomedical science, studying for medical school entrance exams. When he wasn’t learning about the human body, Smith, a resident of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, worked on his car, watched anime cartoons, and played with his beloved Siberian Husky.

But Smith’s dream of becoming a doctor was abruptly cut short when he killed himself last September, less than one month after federal prosecutors charged him with the death of his girlfriend, 26-year-old Amanda Leach, who fatally overdosed in May 2016 on illicit fentanyl he accidentally purchased online. Smith, grieving the…

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. (Photo Jessica Kourkounis / Getty)

Overdoses on fentanyl, an uber-potent synthetic opioid, are the main driver of the opioid crisis: deaths related to the drug more than doubled from 2015 to 2016, killing nearly 20,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pennsylvania is a locus of the crisis. In 2016, fentanyl was present in over half of the overdoses in the state. And yet despite PR-savvy law enforcement messaging about a “public health response” to mitigate the toll, district attorneys there are doubling down on harsh, punitive drug laws. “The stronger we can be in our state sentencing, the better,” Pennsylvania’s…

Source: Ocean County Prosectutor’s Office (YouTube)

Ocean County New Jersey Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said the best way to prosecute a drug overdose as a homicide is to find a witness close to the victim who may have used or bought drugs with them. “You want to get them in an emotional state,” Coronato said. “You want to get them while the teardrops are warm.” What Coronato neglected to mention is that the witnesses may wind up with a homicide charge.

Coronato explained his tactics during a November 15 webinar entitled, “Strategies for Prosecuting Drug-Induced Homicide Cases,” hosted by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, a Washington D.C.-based…

Zachary A Siegel

covering public health and mental health

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