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Unprecedented flood of fentanyl into NY causing ‘heartbreaking’ loss

Sandra Pippa woke in a panic in the middle of the night six years ago — anxious her son still wasn’t home from celebrating his 29th birthday.

“Oh please don’t be mad at me for being late. I’m on the train. I’m coming home,” Pippa recalled her son, Dorian, responding to her frantic 4:30 a.m. text.

“And then, he didn’t… He never did make it,” she told The Post recently. “It’s as if I knew.”

Dorian died moments after the exchange — found in the bathroom of a Metro-North train by NYPD officers — having taken a small but fatal dose of fentanyl that was cut into another drug without his knowledge.

At the time, his story was few and far between, but in the years since his death in 2016, fatal fentanyl-fueled overdoses have become all too common in New York.

The synthetic opioid — which is at least 50 times more powerful than morphine and flows into the states from the southern border — has driven a surge of drug deaths across the country.

In the Big Apple, authorities say it can now be found in nearly every illegal pill or drug peddled on the street.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said NYC Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan, who worked as a homicide prosecutor during the surge of crack in the city in the late 1980s, and early 90s.

Dorian Pippa was killed by a small but lethal dose of fentanyl

More than 2,800 New Yorkers died of a drug overdose — the vast majority involving fentanyl — over a 12-month span ending in July 2022, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s a 125% increase from 2016 when Dorian died.

For the first nine months of 2022, EMS workers rushed to the scene for more than 7,500 calls for overdose, which is on pace to double the tally for the year compared to 2018, according to FDNY data.

“The effect of this drug and the loss that people have suffered because of fentanyl is tremendous and it’s really widespread,” Brennan told The Post.

“It just cuts across everything, age, demographic,” she said. “And it’s just heartbreaking.”

Bag of fentanyl pills seized by the DEA
The fake pills have been flooding the county with the DEA already seizing 379 million lethal doses of fentanyl this year — double the amount of last year.

‘Integrated’ in the drug supply

Cutting drugs with another substance to make them stronger is nothing new for dealers, but the highly addictive fentanyl — which can kill with an amount equivalent to just 10 to 20 grains of salt — has created a new drug epidemic.

Just over a year ago, three Manhattan professionals died on a single day in the winter of 2021 after buying what they believed was cocaine from an illicit, DoorDash-style drug delivery service.

They had no idea the trio of dealers — who were busted by the feds last year — had laced the coke they were buying with a dose of fentanyl that proved deadly.

Frank Tarentino, the Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s New York Office, said these type of fatal overdoses have become the norm — with the synthetic opioid being responsible for almost two of every three OD deaths across the county, according to the most recent federal data.

In New York City, that figure is even higher, with fentanyl accounting for 81% of drug deaths over the 12-month span ending in July 2022.

The new trend, according to the DEA head, is what they are calling fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills.
Drug Enforcement Agency

“That’s a ridiculous amount of overdoses and poisonings caused by one manmade synthetic opioids, like fentanyl,” said Tarentino.

He pointed the finger at two Mexican cartels — the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Cartel — for the flood of drugs that is primarily sourced from China.

Fentanyl has proved to be a boon for dealers thanks to its inexpensive price tag and the ease at which the cartels can manufacture the drug, unlike heroin or cocaine.

So much so, said Brennan, that in New York City it has essentially replaced heroin as the primary street drug.

“It’s so integrated into the drug supply, you really can’t trust any drug that you’re buying on the street,” said Brennan.

The crack epidemic “was nothing like this.”

“The flood of drugs that is coming in [the city] seems to be unending, and it keeps morphing, and now it’s morphing into different forms of fentanyl,” she said.

According to a study by the DEA released in December, six out of 10 fake prescription pills seized and analyzed across the country in 2022 contained a fatal dose of fentanyl. In 2021, it was four in 10.

The new trend, according to Tarentino, is what the agency calls fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills — such as Xanax, Percocet or 30-milligram oxycodone pills — being mass-produced by the Cartels.

“Unfortunately for the opioid-naive and the substance-use dependent people that are out there they are unsuspectingly purchasing pills that have the lethal dose of fentanyl in them,” said Tarentino.

The fake pills have been flooding the county with the DEA already seizing 379 million lethal doses of fentanyl last year — double the amount of in 2021.

“It’s incredible,” said Tarentino.

Dorian Pippa
Dorian Pippa died just hours after turning 29 years old from a fatal dose of fentanyl

Path to addiction

Dorian’s struggle with addiction started when he attended the State University of New York as an undergrad trying to find his way and studying social sciences, his mother said.

“It was with oxy first,” said Pippa, referring to the strong painkiller oxycodone. “The dealers are just giving it to the kids, you know? And then he got very into it.”

An avid music fan who loved the band Phish, Dorian was in and out of rehab for years and “struggled for a long time,” his mom said.

In the time leading up to his death on Aug. 6, 2016, Dorian had been clean.

“He was battling his addiction and was actually quite proud of being able to fight it off,” said Pippa.

But that night, Pippa said Dorian was in an “emotional state” after getting into it with his friends and he went out to buy heroin.

“I don’t know who he hooked up with. I never did find out,” she said. “But he got something with fentanyl in it.”

Dorian’s drug progression, from prescription pills to heroin, is a well-documented addict’s path due to the opioid epidemic.

But with fentanyl replacing heroin as the dominant street drug, addicts are now forced to go down a new, much more dangerous road, Brennan told The Post.

“I would say was not a choice of the people who use the drugs,” the special narcotics prosecutor said. “It was a choice of the drug suppliers.”

Alex Sutton died at 30 years old from fentanyl poisoning

Not just in New York City

“I’ll never forget it was Sunday was a very windy day… I got a text from him at one in the morning saying, ‘I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow,’” Suffolk County resident Carole Trottere recently recalled.

Hours later on April 8, 2018, police showed up at her home, telling her her 30-year-old son Alex Sutton had died of a drug overdose in an apartment in Nassau County, having been poisoned by fentanyl.

“He had died at seven in the morning approximately, but I didn’t find out until late in the afternoon,” said Trottere.

“You know, ironically… everyone was sort of also pleased [in 2018] the rate of overdose deaths was down, but that’s little solace,” she said.

Alex was among the just under 2,300 people who died of a drug overdose between May 2017 and April 2018 in the state outside of New York City, according to the CDC.

That figure has since climbed to above 3,000, where it has hovered since July 2021, the CDC data shows.

“It’s not just New York City it’s little communities like North Salem, New York. It’s every corner of the state people who are using without near fatal implications in past years,” state Sen. Peter Harckham (D-Hudson Valley) told The Post.

Sen. Peter Harckham
Sen. Peter Harckham has focused on overdose prevention in the state Senate.
New York State Senate

Harckham said he doesn’t see a solution to stem the tainted supply of drugs and has tried to focus on death prevention through fentanyl testing strips and overdose centers.

“It’s a constant multi-point effort,” he said. “It’s shoring up treatment and harm reduction treatment and getting more mental health treatment facilities up.”

Across the county, drug deaths have nearly doubled since 2016.

As of July, 102,429 people have died of an overdose in the US, according to the CDC data. In 2016, it was 58,525.

“If not for COVID, what we’re going through right now with fentanyl would be the number one health crisis in the past 100 years,” Trottere recalled a New York City Medical Examiner saying at a DEA summit for victims’ families.

“And I feel like, the majority of the population is kind of ignoring it.”

Additional reporting by Bernadette Hogan

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