Ivan Baker Discusses Heroin Overdose Deaths in an article from the Palm Beach Post

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overdoses in delray beachUpdated: 1:51 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013  |  Posted: 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013

By Jorge Milian – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

A bad batch of heroin appears to be making the rounds in Delray Beach, and authorities are seeing the ramifications.

As of Dec. 1, city police say they’ve seen a “significant spike” in heroin overdoses with “in excess” of 20 cases handled by the department.

At least one of those overdoses is believed to have resulted in a death, police said last week.

Those involved with drug treatment locally say the source of the overdoses is believed to be heroin that has been mixed with Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller much stronger than morphine with a history of causing epidemics of death in major U.S. cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia.

And while the prospect of dying gruesomely of a drug overdose is enough to scare most people away, experts say the volatile mix attracts addicts.

“When hardcore heroin addicts hear that there is bad heroin in town and people are dying from it, their reaction often is, ‘Where can I get some?’ because they feel well-tolerated to heroin and believe it’s the amateurs that are experiencing overdoses,” said Jim Hall, an epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University’s Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities.

One arrest spotlights combination’s power

Local authorities haven’t said if the heroin causing the overdoses in Delray Beach has been laced with Fentanyl. But a 25-year-old Boca Raton man city police arrested Dec. 20 for heroin possession pointed out to an arresting officer the potency of the drug.

Ross Evan Marder was found unconscious in a car “sweating profusely, was blue in color and appeared to have overdosed” when police arrived, according to a probable-cause affidavit. Marder eventually regained consciousness and told officers he bought two capsules of heroin that day.

“(Marder) stated the heroin was very strong and he only really did about half of the capsule,” a city police officer wrote in the affidavit.

The amount of Fentanyl used to cut heroin can mean the difference between living and dying, Hall said.

“Generally, the user and the seller have no idea what they’re taking or selling,” Hall said.

Ivan Baker, who works with addicts at Addiction Intervention Now in Delray Beach, said he’s seen five clients who overdosed in the past two weeks after using heroin tainted with Fentanyl.

Baker said he’s seen a surge in heroin use locally as the state’s crackdown on OxyContin abuse and “pill mills” has taken hold. With prescription pills costing more and becoming harder to get, addicts have adapted by switching to heroin.

“There’s an ebb and flow with the supply and demand between pain pills and heroin,” Baker said.

Statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reveal a 41 percent drop in deaths caused by OxyContin during 2012, but a nearly 90 percent increase in deaths attributable to heroin. There were 57 heroin-related deaths in Florida during 2011, compared to 108 deaths in 2012. Six deaths were caused by heroin use in West Palm Beach in 2012, according to state figures.

Dealers target city’s ‘people in recovery’

Delray Beach’s heroin problem may be, at least partially, connected to the area’s sea of rehabilitation centers and halfway houses. A 2007 New York Times story called the city “the epicenter of the country’s largest and most vibrant recovery community.”

That creates a clientele for drug dealers, Baker said.

“There’s such a high concentration of people in recovery in Delray and Palm Beach County that dealers know the demand is there,” Baker said. “It’s basic capitalism.”

The surge in overdoses has caused Delray Beach police to fight back and, judging by a recent slew of arrests, these are not good times to be selling drugs in Delray Beach.

According to court records, the city’s cops arrested more than a dozen people on drug charges, including three for possession of heroin, on Dec. 20 and 21.

Asked if any arrests in Delray Beach could be connected to this month’s surge of overdoses, police spokeswoman Rachel VanNess said: “Highly possible, but no direct link at this time.”

VanNess said she could not identify the person who died from an overdose, adding that toxicology tests are pending.