Tag Archive | "Heroin"

Naloxone: A Life Saver in a Neglected World

Organizers passed out purple candles at St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction in the South Bronx Aug. 30 in memory of those who have died of heroin overdose.

Community members lit candles Aug. 30 in memory of those who have died of heroin overdose in the Bronx.

MOTT HAVEN--Walking through the streets of the South Bronx one afternoon in July, Tino Fuentes, 53, said he sensed trouble across the street. “You get this little gut feeling like something’s not right,” Fuentes said. He found a man on the ground, unresponsive, drawing faint, shallow breaths. Bystanders said the man had been unconscious for several minutes, and his breathing was getting weaker as time passed. Amidst the chaos, a woman leaned over and whispered, “He did a bag.” Fuentes, who knew she meant the man was likely overdosing on heroin, said he sprung into well-rehearsed action. An ambulance had already been called, but in the case of an overdose, every second matters. An injection of the drug Naloxone can reverse the effect of opioid overdose, but the success rate depends on rapid response. Fuentes had a Naloxone kit across the street. After retrieving it, he removed the orange top of the vile, filled the syringe with its contents, and plunged the two-inch needle into the sinewy part of the man’s shoulder. Fuentes said he was rolling the man over to begin rescue breathing when he came to -- brought back by the medication Fuentes injected. “It’s such a selfish feeling, but I feel great. I just saved someone’s life,” Fuentes recalled. Fuentes claims to have saved more than 75 lives with Naloxone since 2006, though he said he has lost count. He is not an EMT or doctor. He just makes sure he always has a kit on him when he is walking around New York. “I do this because I came from these streets,” Fuentes said. “I gotta find a way to give back, you know?” Fuentes serves as the co-director of the Syringe Exchange Program at St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction in the South Bronx, where he also trains other people to administer Naloxone. Under New York State law, anyone can carry the medication after undergoing the twenty-minute training and earning a blanket-prescription. “There is really no reason not to get trained,” Fuentes said. “We’re reaching out to try to train everybody.”
Between 2014 and 2015, Mott Haven and Hunts Point had the highest rate of heroin overdose in New York City by a significant margin. The death rates have steadily increased in recent years. Joyce Rivera, founder and executive director at St. Ann’s, said socioeconomic status and race cause people to ignore this public health crisis in the Bronx. “The only people who really pay the price for using drugs are poor, working class people,” Rivera said to a crowd on National Overdose Awareness Day at the end of August. But she said harm reduction programs and Naloxone are saving lives in marginalized communities. “Every life matters. Who’s life is expendable?” Across the country, heroin is becoming increasingly deadly. New reports confirm that heroin is now commonly cut with prescription Fentanyl, a drug 100 times stronger than morphine, causing users to underestimate the potency of what they inject. “[Dealers] put whatever they put in heroin to stretch it out, to make more money,” Fuentes said. “Not too many people know what’s being put in there.” According to Fuentes, the man he saved in July was a frequent user, injecting up to five bags a day. The day he nearly died, he was only on his first bag, which he had sniffed rather than injected. Since those are not the conditions that generally lead to overdose, Fuentes said he suspects Fentanyl was present in the mixture. Naloxone is still effective against Fentanyl-laced heroin though experts say in those cases it might take more than one dose to revive the person. Since the Naloxone program began at St. Ann’s in 2006, awareness around heroin overdose has increased dramatically in New York. Now, all police officers in Mott Haven carry Naloxone. Overdose response trainings are being held in local prisons. Laws around prescription to carry have changed to give easier access to the life-saving medication. Organizers at St. Ann’s say the shift in awareness and action was influenced by the changing demographics of heroin use and abuse throughout New York State. In 2013, more white New Yorkers than black or Hispanic New Yorkers died of overdose statewide. “The progress we have made, the general tipping point we have passed, has to do with all of the white people who have overdosed,” said Bill Matthews, clinical director at St. Ann’s. For Fuentes, it’s frustrating to believe nobody cares about the Bronx. But he said the most important thing is that progress is finally being made, and it’s helping people and saving lives. “This is hurting everybody,” Fuentes said.

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Dreams and Nightmares

Jonathan Calderon sitting on his mother's couch on a Saturday night, with a day pass from the treatment center.

Jonathan Calderon sitting on his mother's couch on a Saturday night, on a one-day pass from the VIP treatment center, determined to turn his life around and become a health care worker and a devoted father. (HAN ZHANG/BronxInk)

Jonathan Calderon woke up on a hot June morning, wrapped in a wrinkled red and black blanket, soaked in cold sweat. It was his fourth night and fourth day crashing on his friend’s small couch without heroin. He had no money and no strength to go back to the street. That’s when he logged onto Facebook on his friend’s phone. On the top of the news feed was a photo of his 7-month-old daughter, tilting her head in a smile. “Why am I here instead of being at her side?” Calderon thought to himself. In his 24 years, Calderon, a Mott Haven native, had spent 14 years using and selling drugs, and the last four years doing heroin. Drugs, he said, once relieved his loneliness. Selling drugs even lifted him out of poverty, temporarily. But now, all he had was two knife-slash scars in his arm and leg, four tattoos and a broken down body. Calderon realized that he was about to condemn his young daughter to a life with an absent father on drugs. But he wanted to be able to participate in her childhood. He decided that he had to stop letting heroin control his life. Calderon’s problem was not unique. Many of the city's drug users and their families had endured even worse. Last year, 782 New Yorkers died of drug overdoses. Of those, 420 deaths involved heroin. In the past four years, the city had seen a steady growth in the death toll of drug poisoning, according to a study released this August by the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. More than a quarter of those deaths occurred in the Bronx. During 2012, among every 100,000 residents in the Bronx, 8.8 died of drug poisoning involving heroin. From 2012 to 2013, 16.6 percent of the deaths happened in Hunts Point and Mott Haven, the neighborhood with the most heroin-related deaths in New York City since 2010. In the country, an increasing number of young people started using heroin in the beginning of their adult life. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2012, 18 to 25 year olds accounted for 43.6 percent of illicit drug use. In 2012 alone, 156,000 persons started to use heroin, with the average age of initial use at 23. Grow Up Fast, Smoking Weed Growing up in Mott Haven to drug-addicted parents, Calderon had only met his father once and did not see his mother much before he was 12. He was shuffled between his relatives’ houses, feeling unwelcome everywhere. School wasn’t any better. He said he was bullied through elementary school to junior high, and dropped out of high school after only a few months. He didn’t remember having a toy, or going to the zoo, or holding his parents’ hands. He promised not to let this happen to his own child. “I had to grow up fast to defend myself in the street,” he said. He smoked his first hit of marijuana at the age of 11. “Gimme some of that or I’ll tell your mom,” he remembered telling his 14-year-old cousin. On his 12th birthday, he smoked his second joint with friends in a park near Westchester Avenue. The weed slowed him down and made him laugh. He liked it. By 13, he was smoking several times a day and selling it. Street-smart and an early developer, he was pulled in by a gang in the neighborhood. Surrounded by 18 to 20 year-olds who gave him money and taught him how to sell drugs and to put down street fights, for the first time in his life, Calderon felt embraced and thought that it was love. From a Pothead to a Pill-head One thing led to another, and at 17, Jonathan discovered “Opana,” a prescription painkiller that was able to freeze everything out for him. After taking the orange-colored pill, he liked to run around while the surroundings faded out. In this blurry world, he felt relieved from the pain and stress of loneliness. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned that “crushing, chewing or dissolving” pills such as Opana ER “will result in uncontrolled delivery of active opioid and can lead to overdose or death,” and ordered the manufacturers to change the package labels, directing prescriptions only be given for “severe pain” instead of the formerly “moderate-to-severe pain.” For this reason, in 2012, Opana ER, the long-acting analgesic, adopted a new formulation that resists being dissolved. But back in 2006, when Opana ER first came on the market, Calderon didn’t know he could open up the pills and snort them. He only took “Opana” in pill form. The same year, his street business went to a new level. He started to sell heroin in small bags with a star stamped on it. At that time, Calderon said, all the heroin sold by local gangs had brand images stamped on the bags. The names were derived from a large range of things -“Blue Spider,” “Daddy Yankee,” “MySpace” and “Walking Dead,” to name a few. His left hand still bears a tattoo of a star and a dollar sign. In 2007, a bag of heroin cost around $10. A bundle of 10 bags cost $50 to $ 80. Sometimes, Calderon was able to sell about 15 bundles to up to 30 people in a day. A daily revenue of $500 was commonplace. On a good day, he could make $1000. The money flipped his whole life around, from a street kid with no regular home to an 18 year old with his own place. He paid monthly rent of $500 for a basement studio in a three-story building on Cypress Avenue. It wasn’t just the housing situation that changed. In a neighborhood where 41 percent of the population lived below poverty level, he often spent $150 on a pair of Levi’s jeans and $300 on Jordan sneakers. In fact, he had so many sneakers that he used to wear different shoes everyday for a month. By 19, Calderon had saved up $10,000. Not able to put the street money into a bank account, he dug a hole in the wall in his closet to store his fortune behind his True Religion jeans and Polo shirts. But the $10,000 saving was just a small token of what he had made. He spent most of them on clothes, liquor, cab fare. Some nights, with friends, he would spent $100 at nightclubs. He once squandered $1000 at Sin City Cabaret. Every morning when he turned on his phone at 6 or 7 a.m., it would ring non-stop because addicts in the neighborhood had been craving heroin all night long. After taking care of the business, he would swing by a store to get cigarettes, rolling papers and marijuana in the street. Then he went back home, put on some music, usually Rap or R&B. He liked Meek Mill’s “I Am a Boss” and Trey Songz “Already Taken” the most. And then he would start to smoke. Before noon he would have showered and put on some cologne and had his waist-length hair braided. He’d put on his dashing new clothes and sneakers, ready to show up on the street where he hung out with other gang members till midnight. Calderon enjoyed looking nice and being respected on the street. But sometimes his mind strayed from the non-stop chatter between gangsters about who had been beaten up or who had been killed. “I wish I was born in another country where there was no drugs or violence, living a normal life with my parents,” Calderon said. Live to Dose, Dose to Live In 2009, a girlfriend showed Calderon a new way of taking “Opana.” He started to crush it into powder and snorted it. This could create “legal high,” the same as heroin, but via prescription narcotics. From 2003 to 2012 in New York State, drug-poisoning deaths involving opioid analgesic increased from 186 to 914, reaching a peak of 940 in 2010, according to a study released by the state Department of Health. Most of the victims aged 45 to 64, the age group 20 to 44 being the second large. From 2003 to 2012, death toll of the later group grew almost five folds. Like many other drug users who started with opiod analgesic but then switched to heroin, the more accessible, less expensive substitute, at 21, Calderon started to use the heroin he had for sale, after he and his girlfriend ran out of “Opana.” One snort of heroin always brought him a rush of energy in his body and he would start to scratch-- “the good itch” --all over his body. He could feel the excitement breaking through his normal shyness. After the burst of happiness, Calderon would go into to a deep sleep that he would try to fight away. On a given day, he would snort up to ten bags of heroin. He followed the voice in his head, “Go get it. Go get it.” In about a year and a half, he used up all his savings. But the voice didn’t stop chanting. He started to sell things, like his jewelry and AirJordan sneakers, until he was down to one outfit, and one pair of shoes. Calderon began to cash in on his scrappy reputation on the street. Other heroin dealers loaned him 10 or 20 bundles. One person loaned him 50, expecting him to pay back $2,500. Instead, he snorted it all. That was the beginning of his trouble on the street. Once he was slashed in one arm and leg. The wound opening didn’t heal for two weeks. He was 23. By the end of 2013, Calderon was emotionally repulsed by heroin, tired of all the chasing, hunting and disappointing his family. But his body couldn’t handle withdrawal. In addition to the chills and the sweats, the fevers, compulsive vomiting and sometimes incontinence could drag on for days. He had to get high to feel normal. He was sick of it. “I don’t need my life back. I need a new life.” Calderon knocked on his mother’s door, after four days this June at his friend’s. “I need help, mom,” he said. Having always blamed herself for Calderon’s addiction, the mother instantly broke into tears and hugged him. The day after, she sent Calderon to detox at St. Barnabas Hospital, where he rested for about a week, getting health checks until all the remnants of heroin were removed from his system. Methadone was used to curb his cravings. At the end of the treatment, Calderon was referred to a six to nine months residence treatment program at VIP Services where he participated in group discussions and various therapy sessions during the daytime. Having stayed clean for more than three months, he started to go to classes at Eagle Academy to prepare for GED test. Beyond the test, he plans to be trained for a Primary Care Paramedic License with which he hopes to become a phlebotomist. “I think by handling people’s blood and urine samples, I could help people dealing with their problems,” Calderon said that he had wanted to become a phlebotomist since he was 17 or 18. His daughter is turning one in less than a month. Calderon is counting days – she may be one and a half year old when he finishes Primary Care Paramedic training, is out of the treatment center and on track for his new life. “In a couple of years, when she’s grown up a little bit, I want to get a half sleeve tattoo with her name and face on it,” Calderon said, by then he would have removed the star and dollar tattoo on his hand. He has his mother and grandmother’s name tattooed on his arm and neck. On his other arm was a tattoo from long ago that says “Dreams and Nightmares.”

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Three Bronx men face drug charges in Pennsylvania, BCTV

Three Bronx men are facing drug charges in a Pennsylvania town following an arrest that netted thousands of packs of heroin, according to the community website Berks County TV in Reading, Pa. The suspects who are in their early 20s allegedly distributed large volumes of heroin in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Police said large amounts of heroin with a street value of $73,000 were seized from a car with a New Jersey registration.

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Two Bronx Men Arrested For Pushing Heroin Near School, Daily News

Two Bronx men were arrested for selling heroin out of a drinks distributionship near two Long Island schools, New York Daily News reports. Jason Cruz, 21, and Jeffrey Marmolejos, 22, were arrested on Tuesday after a month long undercover operation by Nassau and Suffolk County police. They discovered the gang selling drugs from Wantagh Beverage, a distributionship near Wantagh Middle School and Wantagh High School in Long Island.

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Major Heroin Bust in Bronx Called a Sign of a Growing Problem

Authorities displayed heroin they said was seized during a raid on an apartment in the Bronx. Photo: Courtesy of NYPD

Authorities displayed heroin they said was seized during a raid on an apartment in the Bronx. Photo: Courtesy of NYPD

On Thursday, four men were arrested and approximately $1 million worth of heroin was seized after an investigation by the New York Police Department’s Bronx Narcotics Major Case Squad and the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office culminated with a raid on an apartment in Parkchester. People with knowledge of the case said the bust was indicative of an increasing number of wholesale heroin operations in the Bronx. Authorities said Apartment 1L in the building at 2112 Starling Ave. was used as a heroin mill, where the drug was packaged and processed before being distributed to a variety of dealers. Heroin packaged at the apartment was placed in glassine envelopes, which according to a press release issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration, were stamped with the brand names "Almighty," "Heat Wave," "Maserati" and "Body Bag.”
The exterior of 2112 Starling Avenue, where police said they seized approximately $1 million worth of heroin. Photo: Courtesy of NYPD

The exterior of 2112 Starling Avenue, where police said they seized approximately $1 million worth of heroin. Photo: Courtesy of NYPD

Arrested in conjunction with the raid were four men, including 28-year-old Luis Lara, who was described by the DEA as, "a manager of the drug trafficking organization." Lara was observed, according to the press release, "traveling to both JFK Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport on Sunday and then returning to The Bronx." Law enforcement officials also said they arrested 28-year-old Jose Polo, who was stopped leaving the apartment with a backpack containing 3,000 glassines of heroin, and two other men who worked at the Parkchester mill. In total, the DEA said the search of the apartment uncovered seven kilos of heroin prepackaged in 50,000 envelopes along with "cardboard boxes of empty glassines, scales and coffee grinders used for cutting the heroin" and "other paraphernalia." A source with knowledge of this investigation described heroin mills as a growing problem in the Bronx. Officials said this was a large drug operation, but that there have been at least four major raids on heroin mills in the Bronx since last July, including seizures more than twice the size of this latest bust. New York City special narcotics prosecutor Bridget G. Brennan released a statement  that said the bust was "one of many significant heroin seizures in the city over the past nine months." Brennan's statement cited  a case last July when police officers found a quarter of a million envelopes of the drug, five times as many as were seized in Thursday's raid.

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