Fentanyl Eyed In July Drug Deaths

The Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office in Hauppauge is overseeing toxicology tests on two recent drug overdose victims from Southampton Town. Independent/Peggy Spellman Hoey
The Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office in Hauppauge is overseeing toxicology tests on two recent drug overdose victims from Southampton Town. Independent/Peggy Spellman Hoey

Southampton Town Police have asked for a rush on toxicology results from drug evidence — believed to contain a deadly mix of fentanyl — gathered at the scene of two fatal overdoses last month to help lead them to the dealer and get the product off the streets before there are any more deaths.

Two people died in July from suspected opiate overdoses, including one person in East Quogue who was at first revived with naloxone, but later experienced complications, and another person in the “Northampton area,” according to police. Another two people overdosed at the same house in the Northampton area where the fatal overdose took place, but they were revived and survived the encounter. All of the overdoses are under investigation.

The recent deaths bring the total of suspected opiate-related overdose deaths in Southampton to three so far this year.

Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki declined to release any further details about the circumstances of the overdoses. He did say that investigators have concerns the drug product the victims used contained the highly potent fentanyl, which makes the opiate effect stronger and can kill with the first use, because there was a cluster of overdoses and deaths together in a short period of time.

“That is a red flag to us. When we see several overdoses in a cluster, that makes us suspect there might be fentanyl in it. Fentanyl can be very deadly,” he said.

The toxicology results should be back within the week from the Suffolk County Crime Laboratory. The results will help investigators gather more information about the seller, and the department would work with District Attorney Tim Sini’s office to consider homicide charges.

If there is an arrest and homicide charges are brought in this case, it would be the second such time homicide charges have been brought in a drug case in Suffolk County. A drug dealer was sentenced to four-to-six-years in prison earlier this year for selling a fatal mix of heroin to a buyer who later overdosed.

Fentanyl in its purest form, which is rare to come by, can cause severe illness, and even death, through skin absorption. The police department is taking precautions with its officers, requiring them to wear protective clothing and gloves at scenes where fentanyl is suspected. More recently, Skrynecki said an officer was exposed to the drug and he experienced dizziness and lightheadedness when a small amount of the powdery substance blew in his direction.

In January, Skrynecki expressed concerns with the release of statistics showing the town’s fatal overdose rate more than quadrupling from four in 2016 to 19 in 2017.

At least one person died from a drug overdose every month with the exception of April, in Southampton Town, according to statistics. But there were spikes in fatal overdoses in March, which had five, and four in June, in which fentanyl was involved in three deaths for each month. The hamlet of Hampton Bays had the most fatal overdoses, with six people losing their lives to opiates between March and November of last year.

Updated statistics for Suffolk County overall and preliminary statistics for 2018 were not immediately available from Suffolk County Medical Examiner Michael Caplan’s office. Preliminary stats released to The Independent in January showed there were 235 opiate deaths, with 136 drug overdose cases pending in Suffolk County. Twenty-nine of those cases were drawn from the East End, which made the location the fourth highest location for fatal overdoses countywide.

Brookhaven Town, Southampton Town’s closest western neighbor, had 120 fatal overdoses, the highest number of drug-related fatalities in the county.

In 2017, 224 men and 66 women overdosed on opiates, and of that number, the vast majority — 266 people — were white. The 30- to 39-year-old age bracket contained the highest number of fatalities at 96, and that was followed by 67 in the 20-to-29 group, and 62 in 40-to-49 year-olds.

Southampton Town police are asking anyone with information about the recent spike in fatal overdoses to contact their detective division at 631-702-2230.

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