‘Fentanyl in everything’: 4 new hospitalizations days after Fla. Spring Breakers OD
First responders are deeply troubled by what one is calling a cluster of fentanyl cases
By Eileen Kelley and Angie DiMichele
South Florida Sun Sentinel
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Rescuers are deeply troubled by what one is calling a cluster of fentanyl cases popping up in the Fort Lauderdale area after 10 people at two homes were hospitalized because of the potentially lethal drug fentanyl in a matter of three days.
Fentanyl is deadly. Even a few granules the size of salt from a shaker could kill you.
Four men were hospitalized Sunday after a medical emergency involving fentanyl, the Broward Sheriff’s Office said Monday. Two of the men were found in respiratory arrest in the 1600 block of Southwest 40th Terrace in unincorporated Fort Lauderdale, Battalion Chief Michael Kane said.
Detectives found “drug residue” at the residence, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Testing determined the substance to be fentanyl. As of Monday afternoon, three of the men had been released from the hospital. The men are ages 39, 30, 28 and 26, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Four U.S. Military Academy cadets from West Point were among six people who overdosed on fentanyl-laced cocaine at a rental home Thursday in Wilton Manors. The cadets were on Spring Break. One of the cadets is on the football team.
Fentanyl is a dangerous synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times stronger than morphine. In its illegal form, it is often added to other street drugs, including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, due to its potent effects. It is also often made into pills that closely resemble prescription opioids.
As of Friday, Fort Lauderdale rescue crews had administered Narcan treatments 215 times this year, said Battalion Chief Stephen Gollan.
“We have seen an increase in these types of calls since the pandemic began,” said Gollan. ”It seems like a lot when we are 2 1/2 months in to the year.”
A 2020 report from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission says the drug that caused the most deaths across the state was fentanyl. The drug was the cause of death in 5,302 people.
The overwhelming majority of fentanyl deaths, at 94.7%, were accidental, the annual report says. The 2021 report has not been released yet.
In 2020, Broward County saw the highest number of fentanyl-related deaths in the state.
Data from the commission says that, in 2016, 154 people died from fentanyl in Broward County. By 2020, that number had jumped to 642 people.
Retired firefighter and paramedic Luis Garcia, founder of the nonprofit group USA Opioid Crisis Mortality Reduction, is troubled by the recent overdoses.
“While monitoring 911 fire scanners, I noted an increase in 911 OD calls in the last 72 hours,” Garcia said.
Early Friday evening, he turned to Facebook to send out a warning to any drug users or acquaintances of drug users who follow him: There is a fentanyl cluster right now and drug users need to use fentanyl test strips before using drugs.
He’s put out such buyer-beware bulletins in the past.
”That’s it, no judgment,” he said. “People who are battling substance use disorder will use no matter what. Public safety and fire rescue officials have a moral obligation to prevent mortality.”
After 28 years of trying to save lives as first responder in South Florida, Garcia roams Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties passing out Narcan and giving classes on how to administer it.
”What we have is a fentanyl epidemic right now,” Garcia said.
Narcan was created specifically for opioid overdoses. Garcia said that if administered within six to eight minutes of someone overdosing, the rescuer can reverse sudden cardiac arrest 93 percent of the time.
Narcan is sprayed into the nose similar to the way a cold spray is. CVS and Walgreens also sell high doses of Narcan.
“The epidemic today is very different from the 1960s and 1970s,” Garcia said. “The mortality rate is much higher.”
Care Resource, a nonprofit in Fort Lauderdale, launched a mobile medical clinic called the Special Purpose Outreach Team (SPOT) in October, which distributes Narcan and provides a syringe exchange program approved by the county.
Dr. Thomas Smith, director of behavioral health services at Care Resource who oversees the SPOT, said the mobile clinic has distributed 287 units of Narcan. Of those, 152 were used to reverse overdoses.
The mobile clinic distributes about 50 units a month, Smith said. Over half are being used to reverse overdoses.
Fentanyl is being detected in many street drugs, Smith said, including pills, marijuana, crystal meth and cocaine.
“There’s fentanyl in everything,” Smith said. “The drugs are so potent, that it is so much more powerful that somebody, just by contact, in that sense can overdose as well.”
In Wilton Manors, four people were using cocaine, Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue said. After using the drug, two went into cardiac arrest. When two people tried to help them by giving them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, they too were exposed to fentanyl and had to be hospitalized. At least one remains on a ventilator at Broward Health Medical Center.
Late Friday, police arrested Axel Giovany Casseus, 21, of Lauderhill, on a drug trafficking charge after selling cocaine to an undercover officer, an arrest report says.
The undercover Broward County Drug Task Force detective met with Casseus to purchase 43 grams of cocaine, $1,000 worth, in Fort Lauderdale. Authorities then followed him to Hollywood where he was arrested.
Phone records connect Casseus with the undercover purchase as well as one of the overdose victims, the report says.
Dr. Stephen Nelson, chairman of the Florida Medical Examiners Commission and Chief Medical Examiner for Polk, Hardee, and Highlands counties, said officials are increasingly seeing cocaine cut with fentanyl nationwide.
Minimal amounts of the drug are still potent enough to be dangerous, Nelson said.
“I can’t imagine that there’s only one drug seller in Broward that’s doing this,” he said.
“Obviously law enforcement got the one guy off the street, but he’s obviously buying his drug from some place else ... which means that somebody else is out there cutting the drug,” Nelson said.
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