Fentanyl is a drug used to treat severe pain. 9 Investigates uncovered the number of deaths linked to the powerful drug is soaring, across the state. In Central Florida, it was connected to at least 68 deaths last year, and the deaths were all tracked back to heroin laced with Fentanyl.
John Slottke's addiction started with pills. But his mother said that got too expensive, so he turned to heroin.
Documents: Medical examiner's report
“He was a smart kid,” Sandy Heaton told Eyewitness News. “That's the thing, heroin doesn't discriminate.”
Heaton watched her son go in and out of treatment programs through Aspire Health in Orlando. In the summer of 2014, she thought he had finally turned the corner.
“He was going to the Bible study, he had money, (he had) just bought a laptop and clothes, (a) new bike to get around,” Heaton said.
But then she got a phone call telling her that his body was found in an apartment, badly decomposed. The medical examiner found "a lighter, syringes, baggies and a glass pipe." An autopsy found a "high level of Fentanyl" in his system, and that heroin that he injected was likely laced with it.
“This is worse than heroin?” 9 Investigative reporter Daralene Jones asked.
“Heroin would be two to three times more powerful than morphine, and when you're talking about Fentanyl, you're talking 100 times more powerful than morphine,” Orange-Osceola County Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Stephany said.
9 Investigates spent weeks reviewing medical examiner reports, statewide, where a death was caused by heroin, laced with Fentanyl or pure Fentanyl. A total of 538 deaths were reported to the state in 2014, compared to 292 the year before, according to data compiled each year from medical examiners, and reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
Central Florida accounted for 145 of those deaths, in 2014 alone. The numbers for 2015 are still being compiled because medical examiners have to wait for lab results.
So far, the Orange-Osceola medical examiner has connected 68 deaths in 2015 to the drug. The FDLE reports shows that occurrences of Fentanyl increased by 84 percent in 2014, and deaths caused by fentanyl increased by 114 percent, when compared to 2013.
“When you mix this with heroin, it sounds like it's instant death,” Jones said.
“It can be. The two combined can have an effect,” Stephany said. “The numbers are expected to continue climbing.”
There are survivors, meaning the scope of the problem is far worse than the death toll piling up at the morgue. “Keep in mind, we just see the people who die. We don't know the people who survive and go to the hospital,” Stephany said.
Heaton never saw her son after his death. She couldn't hold up emotionally to identify him in the morgue before he was cremated.
“I had my faith and I know that my son is with Jesus, so that's the only thing that really gets me through it all is my faith,” Heaton said.
Heaton is now connected with a grief counseling group. She led her first group in recent weeks. They meet at: Union Park Christian Church at 2119 N. Dean Road in Orlando, Florida 32817. They can be reached at: 407-275-0430.
Click here for a list of resources available to help people struggling with addiction.
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