Archive for December, 2016

George Michael's boyfriend reveals he died alone at home, amid claims he had battled heroin habit

Posted on: December 29th, 2016 by sobrietyresources

Patrick Sawer, senior reporter Lexi Finnigan Lydia Willgress 28 DECEMBER 2016 • 2:03PM
It is a haunting image, a famous music star staring out from the window of his country home as the village Christmas procession passed by – life going on without him.

To his fans he was the defining pop idol of their generation, to his admirers he had one of the most beautiful soul voices in British pop, but this last sighting of George Michael reveals that he died the death of a recluse.

His boyfriend has revealed how the singer-songwriter, who gave us one of the most-loved Christmas songs of all time, had died alone on Christmas morning, at the age of just 53.

Fadi Fawaz, a celebrity hairdresser, who had been in a relationship with the star since 2011, said he discovered the singer when he went to his home in Oxfordshire.

He told The Telegraph: “We were supposed to be going for Christmas lunch. I went round there to wake him up and he was just gone, lying peacefully in bed. We don’t know what happened yet.

“Everything had been very complicated recently, but George was looking forward to Christmas, and so was I.

“Now everything is ruined. I want people to remember him the way he was – he was a beautiful person.”

In recent years, the hedonistic lifestyle that the singer became famous for had left the once dashingly handsome pop icon a bloated version of himself.

It can also be revealed that during the past year he is thought to have battled heroin addiction.

A source revealed that Michael had been treated in hospital for an overdose.

“He’s been rushed to A&E on several occasions,” the source said. “He used heroin. I think it’s amazing he’s lasted as long as he has.”

Cardiac arrest – the cause of death according to Michael’s manager, Michael Lipman  – is common amongst those who have used heroin.

The claim that Michael was battling heroin addiction was denied by his lawyers and police said the circumstances of his death are being treated as “unexplained but not suspicious”.

Michael’s death was deeply sad for a man whose bravery in forcing the world to come to terms with his sexuality on his terms was widely admired, but who was dogged by the long shadow of Aids.

The condition took several friends and at least one lover and had initially forced him to keep the truth about his homosexuality hidden for fear of terrifying his mother about the consequences.

His former partner Kenny Goss described him as an “extremely kind and generous man”.

In a statement, he said: “I’m heartbroken with the news that my dear friend and long-time love George Michael has passed.

“He was a major part of my life and I loved him very, very much. He was an extremely kind and generous man.

“The beautiful memories and music he brought to the world will always be an important part of my life and those who also loved and admired him.”

Neighbors near his home in Goring-on-Thames, near Oxford, which Michael bought for a reported £1.5 million in 1999, spoke movingly yesterday about his last few months.

Outside his home, two reindeer sculptures lit by fairy lights were still illuminated in the garden, while a Christmas wreath covered in apples, berries and pine cones hung on a side door.

The manager of the nearby Catherine Wheel pub, who wanted to remain anonymous, said Michael had been a regular face in the pub, but in recent years his appearances became few and far between.

“He has changed over the years, got a lot bigger and wore glasses. He was very self-conscious. He just did not look like George Michael any more. It’s very sad.

“I went down to lay a candle outside his house with a group and they said the last time he was seen was watching the torchlight procession on Christmas Eve from the window.”

Residents told how Michael chose to buy his home in Goring-on-Thames after he visited the area with Geri Halliwell and no one recognized him.

They said the star had become less visible in recent years and was rarely seen out and about, unless it was to buy packet of Rizla cigarette papers from the local newsagents.

Neighbors fear he spent Christmas Eve either alone or with his housekeeper.

Malcolm Allport, 80, reported seeing Christmas deliveries arriving, but no guests.

Church Warden David Beddall, 77, said: ‘He came to the midnight service last year but he didn’t come this year.

“He decorated the garden with Christmas lights so we knew he was there but we didn’t see him.”

George had maintained a low public profile in recent years, only communicating with fans through Twitter where he had insisted he was “perfectly fine”.

In his last Facebook post, the star said he was busy putting the finishing touches to a documentary called Freedom, which is due to air in March 2017.

On his 53nd birthday, on June 25, Michael apologized to fans for his absence from the limelight.

He wrote on Twitter: “To my lovelies and fans around the world, thank you for all the birthday wishes, I am truly overwhelmed. I am looking forward to spending it with friends and family, thank again, love The Singing Greek!”

The once fresh-faced boy from East Finchley, who had wowed the world with a song about enjoying life on unemployment benefit with his school friend Andrew Ridgeley, had long struggled with substance abuse.

In 2014/15, it was claimed that Michael had secretly spent a year in the £190,000-a-month Kusnacht Practice in Switzerland after becoming addicted to crack cocaine.

Michael’s spokesman said he had not entered rehab but instead had been “spending time in Europe” on an ‘”extended break”.

What is certain is that the singer had a close brush with death as a result of contracting pneumonia in 2011, while on tour.

George started dating Texan art dealer Kenny Goss in 1996 and they broke up in 2009 – something the singer did not confirm for two years.

On the opening night of his Symphonica tour in 2011, he said: “I love him very much. This man has brought me a lot of joy and pain.”

His secret donations to charity

Quietly generous, Michael’s many acts of kindness have begun to be revealed since his death.

A couple who desperately wanted a baby but could not afford fertility treatment and a debt-ridden student nurse were among those who he secretly donated small chunks of his fortune to.

The pop icon’s silent acts of philanthropy over the years added up to millions of pounds, it is now thought, as recipients began to come forward to reveal how his generosity changed lives.

Lynette Gillard, 38, from Bolton, received £15,000 from an anonymous donor in 2008 after her husband at the time Stephen appeared on the game show Deal or No Deal but walked away with £3000 – £5000 short of the amount needed for a round of IVF treatment.

The show’s former executive producer Richard Osman announced on Twitter that after a contestant said they needed money for fertility treatment, “George Michael secretly phoned the next day” and said he wanted to donate the thousands of pounds the couple needed.

Last night Ms Gillard said: “For many years I wondered who would have been so generous and now I know. What more can I say other than thank you George.”

A spokesman for Deal or No Deal would not confirm whether Ms Gillard’s mystery donation was from Michael, saying: “Anonymous donations are kept private in line with the donor’s wishes.”

The author and journalist Sali Hughes said that Michael once tipped a barmaid £5,000 because she was a student nurse who was in debt.

She added that Michael was the only star on the celebrity version of the game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire who felt comfortable gambling with all the money he had raised for his chosen charity because he had decided he would pay back the money out of his own pocket if he lost.

Childline founder and president Dame Esther Rantzen also revealed that Michael had given millions of pounds worth of royalties from his 1996 number one single Jesus To A Child to the charity.

“For years now he has been the most extraordinarily generous philanthropist, giving money to Childline, but he was determined not to make his generosity public so no one outside the charity knew how much he gave to the nation’s most vulnerable children,” she said.

“Over the years he gave us millions and we were planning next year, as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations to create, we hoped, a big concert in tribute to him – to his artistry, to his wonderful musicality but also to thank him for the hundreds of thousands of children he helped through supporting Childline.”

Michael, who lost his partner Anselmo Feleppa to HIV, “personally supported” the Terrence Higgins Trust for “many years”.

Jane Barron, who works for the trust, said that gifts donated by Michael were “used to raise vital funds to help us support people living with HIV”.

She said that the trust benefited from the royalties of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me, Michael’s 1991 duet with Elton John.

The actress Emilyne Mondo wrote that Michael had volunteered at a homeless shelter with her, but had asked the others there not to publicize the fact.

She said yesterday: “George Michael worked anonymously at a homeless shelter I was volunteering at. I’ve never told anyone, he asked we didn’t. That’s who he was.”

His plans for the future

It has also emerged that Michael was filming a documentary about his life and was planning a new album to be released next year.

In his last public Facebook post, the Wham! Singer posted an image about the forthcoming show, entitled Freedom, which covers a five year period in his life.

In the social media post, Michael said he was busy putting the “finishing touches” to the special documentary and that he had discovered some “incredible, unseen archive footage” and was shooting additional interviews for the project.

Channel 4, which commissioned the project, said the documentary covers an “eventful” and “dramatic” period in the star’s life, including when he fell in love for the first time – a romance which ended in tragedy.

In a press release, a C4 spokesman said: “The film will be a very personal documentary revealing how the boy from north London became one of the most influential recording artists of all time and helped to rewrite the rules of the music industry and celebrity.”

To coincide with the programme’s broadcast, George had also agreed to reissue his famous Listen Without Prejudice album, on which he collaborated with stars like Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder and Keith Richards.

The documentary, which is narrated by the pop star, is also said to feature interviews from other 90s icons including Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, who starred in Michael’s Freedom! ‘90 music video.

In December, it was also announced that the singer was working on a new album with producer Naughty Boy.

It is thought he had already penned several tracks for the follow-up to 2014’s Symphonica.

In an interview with the BBC earlier this month, music producer Naughty Boy, known for his work with Beyonce, Sam Smith and Emile Sande, confirmed the plans. “He’s got an album coming out next year, and he’s going to be doing something for my album as well.” He added: “I can’t wait. I don’t know what to expect. And, to be honest, he’s more mysterious than anyone else so I’m actually excited.”

Why he hid his sexuality

George Michael could have helped to counter a “tide of prejudice” in the 1980s when being gay was considered a “scandal and a shame”, if he had come out earlier, the campaigner Peter Tatchell said yesterday.

Mr Tatchell said he wished the singer had spoken publicly about his sexuality earlier, although he understood why he did not.

The pair first met at a gay disco above a pub in London in 1980, when Michael was a teenager and not yet famous.

It was not until 18 years later that he spoke publicly about his homosexuality, after being arrested in Beverly Hills, California, for engaging in a “lewd act” in a public toilet.

Michael later said he never had a “moral problem” with his sexuality, but that he did not want to worry his mother because of fears about Aids within the gay community at the time.

“Understand how much I love my family and that Aids was the predominant feature of being gay in the 1980s and early 90s as far as any parent was concerned,” he said in an interview in 2007.

“My mother was still alive and every single day would have been a nightmare for her thinking what I might have been subjected to.”
“This was also the era of Aids, which was often dubbed ‘the gay plague’,” Mr Tatchell said yesterday.

“Gay men were blamed for the deadly virus. Public attitudes become much more homophobic. Gay bashings and murders rocketed. It was a fearful period to be gay, let alone a gay public figure.

“I wish George had come out then. He could have helped counter that tide of prejudice. But I understand why he didn’t.”

In the 1980s, Michael fell out with Boy George, who was then openly gay and resented the Wham! singer promoting himself as a “stud”.

“People saw me as the benchmark queer while George Michael was passing himself off as a straight stud,” the Culture Club singer said in 2005, although the two musicians were said to have reconciled later.

Struggling with his sexuality in the 1980s, he once said he felt he did not have his first relationship until 27, because it was not until his mid-20s that he accepted he was gay.

Shortly afterwards he then lost his partner designer Anselmo Feleppa to HIV.

The song Jesus to a Child was dedicated to him.  “I lost my partner to HIV then it took about three years to grieve; then after that I lost my mother. I felt almost like I was cursed,” he said in an interview.

He went on to become a prominent gay rights advocate and a supporter of HIV campaigns.

He fronted a documentary about HIV to coincide with World Aids Day the year he came out, and he was also a passionate supporter of HIV charity the Terrence Higgins Trust.

The gay rights group Stonewall said yesterday: “You inspired many and your music will live on in the hearts of the community. You will be sorely missed.”

What will happen to his fortune?

It has also emerged that Michael could leave some of his estimated £105 million fortune to his godson James Kennedy, a reality TV star who lives in California.

The late star did not have any children of his own, but it is thought that the 24-year-old could be set to be among the beneficiaries of the Club Tropicana singer’s will.

According to reports between 2006 and 2008 Michael earned £48.5 million from his “25 Live” tour.

And last year’s Sunday Times Rich List put him as one of the wealthiest British musicians, with an estimated worth £105 million.

It followed reports in 2014 that he was among a number of celebrity investors to be caught in a tax avoidance scheme.

George Michael grew up with James Kennedy’s father, Andros Georgiou, according to reports, leading to the late star becoming James’s godfather.

Their fathers are thought to have come from the same village in Cyprus and they each emigrated to London to make a life filled with family.

In an interview with The Sun, Georgiou revealed that George had helped him give James his first bath after he was born in 1992.

James Kennedy now stars in Vanderpump Rules, an American reality television series, in which he works in a restaurant and as a DJ.

After Micheal’s death, James Kennedy posted via his Twitter account, which has 58,000 followers, saying: “Rest In Peace George I’m heartbroken we never got to speak again after so many years, I can’t believe this has happened, please watch over me in heaven God father. Enjoy paradise I love you.”

It is understood that Michael and his father Georgiou had not been on speaking terms for a number of years before his death.

In 2011 George told the Independent about his decision not to have children, saying: “I’ve got godchildren. Thank god I didn’t have children – can you imagine being George Michael’s son or daughter.

“I don’t think having Elton [John] as your dad would be as embarrassing as having George Michael as your father … It’s a resolute no, I’m 47.”


A young couple died of overdose, police say. Their baby died of starvation days later.

Posted on: December 29th, 2016 by sobrietyresources

By Kristine Guerra December 25
Two young parents died of apparent drug overdoses in a Pennsylvania home about a week ago.

Left alone in her bassinet, the couple’s infant died three or four days later. Authorities said 5-month-old Summer Chambers died of dehydration and starvation, the Associated Press reported.

She and her parents, Jason Chambers, 27, and Chelsea Cardaro, 19, were all found dead Thursday in a home in the Kernville neighborhood of Johnstown, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Officials with the Johnstown Police Department were unavailable for comment Saturday.

[Another parent’s overdose, another child in the back seat: A ‘new norm’ for drug users?]

But Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan told reporters at a news conference Friday that authorities found evidence of drugs inside the home and think that the couple overdosed on heroin. The two probably died within minutes of each other.

County coroner Jeffrey Lees said the couple had been dead for about a week when they were found Thursday, the AP reported. Chambers was found on the first floor of the home, while Cardaro was in the second-floor bathroom. Their daughter was in the second-floor bedroom.

Authorities said this isn’t the first time that a drug overdose occurred at the home.

Johnstown police Capt. Chad Miller told reporters that authorities were called to the house last month after Chambers overdosed, NBC affiliate WJAC-TV reported. Chambers was revived with Narcan, which reverses the effects of heroin in emergency situations.


Child welfare officials checked on the infant Dec. 7, WJAC-TV reported.

“They checked the house, and it was appropriate to a child living there,” Callihan said, according to the Tribune-Democrat. “There was plenty of food and the child seemed well taken care of.”

Nationwide, opioids such as heroin and prescription pain relievers killed more than 28,000 people in 2014, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least half of all deaths from an opioid overdose involved a prescription drug, the CDC said, adding that the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has nearly quadrupled nationwide since 1999.

Several states, including North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, had significant increases in drug-related deaths from 2014 to 2015, according to the CDC.

Miller said the couple and their daughter had recently moved to Pennsylvania from New York.

“It’s an unfortunate incident where they both possibly overdosed at the same time — and being from out of town, not having anybody in town — it was too long for anybody to notice that they were missing,” Miller said, according to the AP.

James Grant, a friend of the couple, found them dead Thursday afternoon.

“It was hard going in there and being the one to see them like that, but it still kind of doesn’t seem real,” Grant told WJAC-TV.





Mother Shares Before and After Photos of Meth Addiction, Inspires Many

Posted on: December 27th, 2016 by sobrietyresources

 Beth Greenfield Senior Writer Yahoo Beauty December 22, 2016

 One mom’s shocking before-and-after photos — showing how her “disgusting” life had been ravaged by meth, cocaine, and heroin addiction — are going viral for their combo of shock and hope this week.

“I was a monster,” Dejah Hall, 26, of Glendale, Ariz., told ABC 15 on Monday (video below). “I was a monster in every sense of the word.”

Hall, now an avowed Jesus devotee and mom to an 18-month-old girl, posted a series of photos to Facebook on Dec. 6 to mark four years of sobriety. While the before shots have her looking vacant and worn, the current-day photo shows a well coiffed Hall looking vibrant and glowing from within.

“Today marks 4 years clean from heroin and meth,” her post to the public Facebook group Sobriety Birthdays reads. “The top left is me in full blown addiction, I was a terrible IV user and like most, progressively got worse. The bottom left is me the day I was arrested 12-6-12 and coincidentally the day I finally surrendered to God! With the help of God I am completing my BA and hope to one day be a prison minister…”

Hall’s original post has been shared more than 34,000 times and gotten more than 78,000 reactions, plus hundreds of supportive comments telling her “You are a walking miracle,” and “Sobriety looks gorgeous on you!!!” She reposted the photos on Dec. 16 to express her gratitude over the response, which racked up more than 600 responses and more comments calling her an “inspiration” with a “powerful testimony.”

The young mom, who is working as a bartender while majoring in Christian Studies at Grand Canyon University, told the Daily Mail this week that her descent into drug addiction began when she was just 17 and took a prescription pill while partying. “It just went downhill from there,” she said. “I was taking up to six prescription pills at a time every single day before I reached a point at 20 years old where I wanted to get off them.”

She went from trying methadone treatment to stopping cold turkey, until a friend introduced her to smoking heroin as a way to stop her withdrawal symptoms. “By the second hit I fell in love with high. It was numbing,” she said. “I couldn’t stop. All I wanted to do was numb myself. I wanted it so desperately that nothing else mattered. Every single minute of the day I just wanted to get high… By the time I started injecting heroin I didn’t care whether I lived or died.” Hall said she was injecting both meth and heroin for several months in 2012. “I was killing myself,” she said, “but I still felt like I looked beautiful.”

Her grandfather was the only person who could get through to her, as he spoke honestly when she visited for his birthday.

“My grandfather was sitting in his wheelchair and he looked at me he said, ‘You’re hurting me, Dejah,’” Hall told ABC 15. “I went to the bathroom and I looked at myself and I really looked at who I had become — this disgusting person who needed to continue to stick these drugs in their veins because I couldn’t function.” She promised her grandfather she would get clean — and hours later was arrested on felony warrants, sending her to prison and pushing her to keep her promise.

Although she could have gotten drugs while incarcerated, Hall said she made the choice to stay sober and embrace a religious life. But her grandfather died two weeks after she got locked up.

“More than anything, I wish I could tell him that I made it,” she said. “That I’m doing it.” Her message has been received, at least, by thousands around the world.






Posted on: December 22nd, 2016 by sobrietyresources

12/22/2016 9:32 AM PST

First responders rushed to Valerie Fairman initially thinking she might have suffered a heart attack … but once on scene there were signs of possible drug abuse.

TMZ got the dispatch call to the fire dept and EMS Wednesday night in Coatesville, PA … and the call went out as a “cardiac arrest” — but about 10 minutes later the dispatcher changes the call to a “possible DOA.”

She also says paramedics are going to need containers for needles. As we’ve reported … it appears the “16 and Pregnant” star died of an overdose. She’d battled drug addiction for many years.


More than 50,000 overdose deaths: A grim tally soars to all-time U.S. high

Posted on: December 22nd, 2016 by sobrietyresources

By Tribune News services, December 8th, 2016 at 6:33 pm.

More than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, the most ever.

The disastrous tally has been pushed to new heights by soaring abuse of heroin and prescription painkillers, a class of drugs known as opioids.

Heroin deaths rose 23 percent in one year, to 12,989, slightly higher than the number of gun homicides, according to government data released Thursday.

Deaths from synthetic opioids, including illicit fentanyl, rose 73 percent to 9,580. And prescription painkillers took the highest toll, but posted the smallest increase. Abuse of drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin killed 17,536, an increase of 4 percent.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this. Certainly not in modern times,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees death statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new numbers were part of the agency’s annual tally of deaths and death rates in 2015.

Overall, overdose deaths rose 11 percent last year, to 52,404. By comparison, the number of people who died in car crashes was 37,757, an increase of 12 percent. Gun deaths, including homicides and suicides, totaled 36,252, up 7 percent.

As part of its annual report the CDC also found that rates for 8 of the 10 leading causes of death rose last year, causing the nation’s life expectancy to go down for the first time in more than 20 years. Drug overdoses were a significant factor, but an unexpected increase in the death rate from heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer, was another major reason.


Doctors track "an explosion" of Newborns Addicted to Opiates

Posted on: December 15th, 2016 by sobrietyresources

By MARY BROPHY MARCUS CBS NEWS December 13, 2016, 9:37 AM

 The opioid epidemic is increasingly touching the tiniest of lives, according to new research, and doctors who treat those affected say the impact is heartbreaking.

More babies of mothers addicted to opioids are being born dependent on the drugs themselves, driven by a sharp surge in rural areas of the country. The newborns come into the world suffering from what medical experts call neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a term for the constellation of health problems a baby experiences as it’s withdrawing from exposure to narcotics inside its mother’s womb.

The number of cases neonatal abstinence syndrome and maternal opioid use increased five-fold in the United States between 2000 and 2012, according to a research letter in JAMA Pediatrics written by scientists from five leading pediatric hospitals in the U.S.

Dr. Terrie Inder, chair of pediatric newborn medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told CBS that the data highlights a major public health threat.

“This has exploded. We are dealing with an explosion of a national health issue,” said Inder, who was not involved in the research.

For the study, the scientists analyzed information from a national database that tracked births and deliveries between 2004 and 2013. Hospital codes enabled them to determine the number of babies born with NAS and the number of mothers on opioids.

While the phenomenon is happening in rural and urban areas alike, rates are climbing at a much faster rate in rural and small-town America than in cities, they wrote. The incidence of babies with NAS increased from 1.2 to 7.5 per 1,000 hospital births among rural infants and from 1.4 to 4.8 per 1,000 hospital births in urban infants.

Framed as percentages, about 21 percent of newborns with withdrawal symptoms in 2012-2013 were from rural counties, up from 13 percent in 2003-2004.

Ten years ago, the condition was predominantly found in disadvantaged communities, often in urban settings and linked to illicit drug use, said Inder. Now, it’s touching women and newborns from all economic brackets and geographic areas.

“The increase that you see in the JAMA data relates to a more widespread use of pain medications across all social classes. Now, we are equally likely to see a mother from a middle class or upper middle class background who was unaware that taking these medicines could lead to that type of consequence for her baby,” Inder said.

Neonatal specialists are in “survival mode” when it comes to caring for these babies, said Inder, who would like to see a national plan set in place with improved communication between neonatal specialists and obstetricians, “to help us to deal with this escalation, this problem we didn’t anticipate was coming.”

Babies with NAS and their mothers are separated after birth so that the newborns can be treated for withdrawal. On average, the babies stay 24 days in the hospital.

“The babies, they are really unsettled, they really suffer, just like adults do when they withdraw from narcotics. The babies are very irritable and sometimes have high heart rates, sweating, flushing, diarrhea. They cry a lot. Often they need someone to really hold and cuddle and nurture them and support them,” Inder said.

“Those crucial weeks of feeding, bonding and caring are interrupted. It’s very impacting for both the mother and the baby,” she added.

The mothers suffer, too, some unaware that the painkillers she’s been taking could cause addiction in her baby.

“These are mothers that have gotten opiate drugs prescribed by a prescriber. You can imagine the anxiety, guilt, and all those emotions that really affect attachment, the way a mother and a baby should be bonding,” Inder said.

The study authors called for more funding to deal with the painkiller crisis in rural areas.

“This geographic disparity highlights the urgent need for policymakers to appropriate funding for clinicians and programs that could improve access to opioid prevention and treatment services for rural women and children,” they wrote.

Dr. Siobhan Dolan, medical advisor to the March of Dimes and an OB/GYN at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said obstetricians — particularly those in rural areas — need to stop stigmatizing painkiller addiction and treat it as a medical condition, identifying moms and babies at risk.

Dolan said she’s heard women talk about their personal experiences with NAS at conferences.

“There’s a lot of blame and shame. We need to take it out of ‘blame and shame’ and just medicalize it. We can’t stick our heads in the sand anymore,” Dolan told CBS News.



In Miami’s overdose ‘hot zone,’ the heroin toll skyrockets

Posted on: December 12th, 2016 by sobrietyresources

BY DAVID OVALLE [email protected] DECEMBER 7, 2016 10:15 AM

 Opioid addicts are overdosing in staggering numbers across Miami-Dade County — and the “hot zone” for the growing epidemic is the streets of Overtown.

On a sunny morning late last month, a 43-year-old homeless woman named Mary crumpled to the sidewalk along Northwest 17th Street, vomit smeared across her T-shirt and hair. Within minutes, Miami Fire-Rescue paramedics injected her twice with the life-saving antidote known as Narcan.

As they lifted her still-unconscious body into the ambulance, a telltale sign was revealed. On the sidewalk lay a silver burnt spoon used to liquify the powder heroin.

Mary was lucky to survive, and stories like hers have become increasingly common for overwhelmed first responders on the frontline of South Florida’s opioid crisis. Newly released statistics show that in the first nine months of 2016, the Miami Fire-Rescue stations in the neighborhood used Narcan nearly 1,000 times — nearly double the rate of last year.

But they don’t always make it in time.

Since 2015, at least 31 people have fatally overdosed in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood with heroin or fentanyl — often both — in their blood. That makes it far and away the deadliest zip code for opioid deaths in Miami-Dade County. The city of Miami itself accounted for nearly a whopping 43 percent of all 236 county overdoses recorded since 2015.

And those numbers will rise dramatically — the Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office says there are 140 suspected overdoses from 2016 still awaiting final toxicology reports. Of those, 107 are believed to be overdoses involving carfentanil, an even deadlier cousin to fentanyl that is best known for its use as an elephant tranquilizer; 59 of those cases happened in the city of Miami.

The place addicts are dying tells only part of the story, however. Most of the victims aren’t from the poor, predominately black community. They’re white and Hispanic users lured to Overtown by cheap packets of heroin known on the street as “boys.” They can be had for as little as $10 at drug dens.

Rehab gone wrong

That’s the stuff that killed Cody Stewart, a young man who wanted to be a welder but got derailed by drugs in high school. He had moved from Pennsylvania to enter rehab in Pompano Beach.

But after repeated relapses, Stewart made his way to Overtown, where in March he collapsed in the brush behind a ramshackle apartment building on the 200 block of Northwest 13th Street. An autopsy revealed that Stewart had died of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic and far more powerful version of the narcotic. He was 23.

“The day I was looking for him, I called and his roommate said he was probably in Overtown because they get cheap drugs there,” said his mother, Stacy Stewart, of North End, Penn. “He was a good kid, sweet and caring. But once he started the drugs, it overtook him.”

The rise in opioids — heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil and other synthetic versions — has become a national epidemic, laying waste to families from the Midwest to New England. The demand, public-health experts believe, was an unintended ripple effect of the crackdown on another addictive scourge: widely abused prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin. Florida’s notorious “pill mill” clinics helped drive that explosion, hooking thousands on cheap and illegally distributed pills before regulators finally cracked down.

Synthetic drugs, cheaply made in China and often mailed to the United States in nondescript packages, have increasingly filled the void, as chronicled in the Miami Herald’s 2015 Pipeline China series.

Many of the overdoses in Miami have been blamed on heroin laced or substituted with fentanyl, which can be up to 50 percent stronger than heroin. Carfentanil itself is even deadlier — the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, in a public warning issued in September, estimated that it is up to 1,000 times stronger than fentanyl.

Many addicts don’t realize what they are smoking, snorting or injecting.

“The problem is bad, and it’s getting worse,” Miami Fire-Rescue Chief Maurice Kemp, flanked by law-enforcement officials, said at a press conference called in September to highlight the growing dangers of fentanyl.

Miami hit hardest

Kemp’s city has been hit the hardest. Through the first nine months of 2016, Miami Fire-Rescue had deployed Narcan nearly 1,700 times citywide, a stunning increase. In all of 2015, they only used the drug 771 times.
While Overtown and the surrounding areas in the city of Miami have seen the most deaths, virtually every corner of the county has recorded overdoses. Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue, a much larger department, also saw a dramatic increase in the first nine months of 2016, using the drug 966 times, up from 634 all of the year before.

Across Miami-Dade, there have been at least 236 overdose deaths involving the drugs in 2015 through the end of November of this year. The dead have almost all been white or Hispanic — just 21 were black.

Many were transients and chronic drug abusers. Hugo Carranza, 49, snorted heroin in February, fell asleep on a milk crate under a bridge on Old Cutler Road and never woke up. The cause of death: a lethal brew of fentanyl and alcohol.

Some were young, like Miami’s Christian Fernandez, 18, who planned to attend Santa Fe College in Gainesville after entering a drug rehab program upstate. But on Aug. 21, he passed out at a friend’s home on Key Biscayne, after taking pills friends believed to be Oxycontin. The next day, Fernandez died at Mercy Hospital after suffering seizures. Tests showed that he died of heroin and cocaine.

At least one overdose death has been linked to drugs sold in West Perrine in deep South Miami-Dade, where Miami-Dade police last week raided the home of a man believed to have been selling carfentanil.

Law enforcement officials, however, believe dealers in Overtown have done much of the supplying for the rest of the county.

The storied predominately African-American neighborhood was once a thriving community with teeming nightlife and restaurants, before the the construction of Interstate 95 in the 1960s divided and depopulated the neighborhood and crack cocaine and poverty took their toll.

For years, Overtown has been known for drug sales. In the past couple of months, Miami police detectives, along with federal and county counterparts, have quietly arrested more than two dozen sellers and drug-gang lieutenants — most with long rap sheets — in a campaign called Operation Overtown-Swamp City, an ode to one nickname for the neighborhood.

Across Overtown, detectives have sent in confidential informants and undercover detectives and raided known dope holes to try and stymie the flow of opioids.

At the Madison View Apartments, a gleaming affordable housing tower on the 600 block of Northwest Fifth Avenue, residents and management began complaining after users began overdosing in their parking lot. Detectives began watching the market across the street, watching user after user buy from a man identified as Alexander Fonseca, 31, who was arrested and is now awaiting trial.

Stronger but deadlier

The proliferation of heroin laced with fentanyl has both increased the danger and created a spike in demand. Many investigators believe the overdoses have actually spurred business, with opioid abusers risking their lives for a more powerful high.

“The potency went through the roof all of a sudden. It caught fire, and when you’re in that world, addicts gravitate to that,” said James, a 43-year-old recovering user who was arrested in Overtown for possession of heroin in May. “I was in Pompano in rehab, and it’s amazing how many people, they know of Overtown. I was even in Boston a couple months ago, and a couple people I ran into there know of Overtown.”

Chayse Weinreb, 27, a North Miami Beach native who has been clean of heroin for several months thanks to Miami-Dade’s drug court, used to be a regular in Overtown, too. “Everyone knows you can get anything there,” he said.

The addicted have operated in plain view, shooting up in Overtown’s shanty shelters, weed-choked fields and even along highway embankments. Patrol officers have generally been loathe to target users, but sometimes they can’t be ignored — one 45-year-old woman was recently confronted by a cop as she injected under a tree along Northwest First Court.

The overdoses in fields got so bad in Overtown that the Miami City Commission recently passed an emergency ordinance ordering that owners of vacant lots surround the properties with fences.

The University of Miami last month even opened up a long-awaited needle exchange program in the heart of Overtown, to help cut down on the spread of HIV-AIDS. In the coming weeks, the center plans to start handing out to users Naloxone, a drug that blocks or prevents the effects of opioids.

Standing on the corner of Northwest 13th Street and Second Avenue, lifelong Overtown resident Josh Taylor, 36, pointed to street corners, stoops and vacant lots.

In all, he estimates that he has witnessed over a dozen overdoses, all of them believed to have survived thanks to fire-rescue. One woman crumpled to the ground, her boyfriend seconds later. Another woman got robbed after she keeled over.

“All year long, it’s been crazy. I ain’t never seen no s— like this fentanyl,” Taylor said.

Berlinda Faye Dixon, a retired nurse and Overtown activist, herself has had to help administer CPR to at least five users she has stumbled across while motoring her scooter through the streets.

“It’s heart-breaking,” she said. “You’re so many ambulances, so many people experiencing live CPR like on television. CPR on every corner. It’s frustrating.”

Overdose ‘hot zone’

Indeed, for the first responders, the rise in opioid overdoses has been particularly frenzied. The calls have become so routine that prosecutors and toxicologists with the Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office have ridden along to see the carnage up close.

Toward the end of a particularly frenetic summer, Miami paramedics would often save one person from an overdose in the morning — then again in the afternoon after the user walked out of a hospital, recalled Fire-Rescue Capt. Tony Milan.

Since the recent police busts, overdoses seemed to have ebbed somewhat, Milan said. But on a recent morning shift, paramedics worked four overdoses in the neighborhood.

Milan weaved his SUV through Overtown, past a large empty field on Northwest 12th Street and First Avenue, where some ragged tents poked out from tall weeds and the destitute milled about not far from the railroad track. One beat cop, parked next to the field, rolled down the window and noted that “this is the mecca for fentanyl.”

“The overdoses have been all up and down the sidewalk,” Milan said. “All around here is a hot zone.”

Moments later, the woman named Mary collapsed several blocks away. The call popped up on a laptop. Milan was first on the scene, and as fellow paramedics arrived, they quickly inserted a tube to clear her breathing.

Administering the Narcan was an easy call. Her pupils had shrunk to little pinpoints, a telltale sign of heroin or fentanyl use. “Which could lead us to believe it was an opioid overdose,” Milan said.





Woman overdoses in a gas station bathroom with a crying 4-year-old nearby, police say

Posted on: December 7th, 2016 by sobrietyresources

By Lindsey Bever December 6

A 30-year-old Florida woman with a 4-year-old in tow forked over $20 for heroin and headed to a Sarasota convenience store to shoot up “because the drive to use” was too strong to ignore, authorities said.

Amanda Riley walked into a Wawa with the small child Friday night and went straight to the bathroom, police said. Five minutes later, a store clerk stumbled upon the sort of tragic scene that is becoming all too familiar as an opioid epidemic plagues the nation.

Riley was unconscious — and the crying child near her “appeared frightened, was alone and uncared for,” according to a police report cited by the Bradenton Herald.

Riley was treated for an overdose and later arrested and charged with felony child neglect without great bodily harm, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. Records show she was released Saturday.

Riley could not immediately be reached for comment, and it’s unclear whether she has an attorney.

A Wawa clerk declined to speak about the incident.

Children have become innocent victims in the opioid epidemic that’s destroying families from coast to coast. Some have seen their parents shoot up and overdose, occasionally with fatal consequences. Others have unwittingly and unwillingly faced overdoses themselves.

In September, a chilling photograph distributed by the authorities captured the innocence lost on a 4-year-old’s face in East Liverpool, Ohio, where a man and woman were seen slumped over after overdosing in a vehicle, the boy still strapped into his car seat in the back.

A week later and 600 miles away, at a Family Dollar store in Lawrence, Mass., a hysterical toddler was captured on a cellphone video as she tried to wake her mother after an apparent drug overdose. The video showed the toddler, dressed in pink-and-purple “Frozen” pajamas, pulling her mother’s fingers, then sitting down beside her and shaking her mother’s face.

The mother was arraigned last week on a child endangerment charge.

In October, a 7-year-old girl in McKeesport, Pa., told her school bus driver that she hadn’t been able to wake the adults in her house for days, and that their bodies were beginning to change colors. She had been caring for three other children in the home — ages 5, 3 and 9 months — and had gotten herself back and forth to school, police said. Her parents were dead.

Then last month, a couple in Washington state made national news when police said they had been injecting their young children with heroin, which they reportedly called “feel good medicine.”

“The kids lived in deplorable conditions,” Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Detective Ed Troyer told The Washington Post at the time. “It wasn’t a good living situation even without the issue of heroin.”

“We unfortunately find kids living in deplorable conditions all too often, but we don’t see parents intentionally putting drugs into kids,” he added.

In Florida, Sarasota County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call Friday about a possible overdose at the Wawa convenience store, police said in a statement.

First responders administered the opioid antidote Narcan and rushed Riley to a hospital for treatment, police said.

Riley later admitted to deputies that she bought heroin that night and then injected it in the store bathroom, police said.

Police said the 4-year-old child who was with her was found safe and released to relatives. Authorities said they could not disclose the nature of Riley’s relationship to the child.

Sarasota Sheriff’s Maj. Paul Richard, a law enforcement division commander, told The Post that the opioid problem in the county is similar to what public health and police officials are seeing elsewhere in the nation.

Opioids, including heroin, are the main drivers of overdose deaths nationally, accounting for more than 28,000 deaths in 2014, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Florida that year, there were 2,634 deaths, according to the CDC.

Richard said authorities in Sarasota County have seen a spike in overdoses related to heroin — especially when the drug is cut with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid many times more potent than heroin. But, he said, authorities in the county have been working to combat it.

“When we respond to one of these, we don’t just work it as an overdose,” he said, explaining that authorities try to identify and then cut off the problem at the source.

Last year, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office became the first law enforcement agency in the state to issue naloxone auto-injectors to deputies to try to help reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths.

“The rising number of overdose deaths from heroin and opioid-based prescription drugs is one of the top concerns for our community,” Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight said at the time. “This product delivers a potentially life-saving dose of naloxone by a simple to use auto-injector system that is easy to carry and administer to someone experiencing an opioid overdose.”



Little Girl Drowned While Babysitter Smoked Meth

Posted on: December 6th, 2016 by sobrietyresources

Laura Beck

Cosmopolitan December 5, 2016

Palm Bay, Florida police say a woman has been arrested for connection to the death of a 5-year-old girl.

According to News 6, on Nov. 25, Jacqueline Chiara Bjorndal, 22, found Aubrie Alcott dead in a pool. Police said Bjorndal, who was babysitting the 5-year-old girl, was smoking meth and marijuana when she let her go outside to play with her pet pig by the pool.

When Bjorndal’s roommate arrived at the house 20 minutes after Aubrie went outside, he saw a dark shadow at the bottom of the pool. He retrieved the girl, called 911, and the operators walked him through CPR.

“We got a little girl who fell in the pool, and she’s not breathing. Her lips are blue,” the roommate said.

Aubrie’s mother told Bjorndal not to let the girl anywhere near the pool, police said.

“The mother knew that Aubrie couldn’t swim and she didn’t want her back by the pool,” said Lt. Mike Bandish with Palm Bay Police.

Bjorndal has been charged with Aggravated Manslaughter by Neglect of a Child. She is at Brevard County Detention Center with no bond, and her arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 5.

Mother captured in ‘heartbreaking’ overdose video charged with child endangerment

Posted on: December 2nd, 2016 by sobrietyresources

By Lindsey Bever and Peter Holley November 30

A terrified toddler in pink-and-purple “Frozen” pajamas prodded, pulled and cried — but was powerless to wake up her mother.

Mandy McGowan, 36, was unconscious from an apparent opioid overdose, sprawled in the toy aisle of a Family Dollar store in Lawrence, Mass. Her 2-year-old daughter pulled McGowan’s fingers, then sat down beside her and tried to shake her face.

The heart-wrenching moment was captured on video, and the footage went viral — another shocking scene from the opioid epidemic’s harrowing horror show.

McGowan, from Salem, N.H., has been in drug treatment since the Sept. 18 incident. On Monday, she emerged for a hearing in Lawrence District Court, where she was arraigned on a child endangerment charge, according to the Boston Globe.

Prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to charge McGowan with drug-related offenses: Overdosing is not a crime, and there was no evidence she was in possession of illicit drugs at the time of her apparent overdose, according to an Essex County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman.

McGowan pleaded not guilty and was ordered to continue her care at the Banyan Treatment Center in Wilmington and to remain drug- and alcohol-free, submitting to regular screenings, Essex County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Carrie Kimball Monahan told The Washington Post.

She will also be required to report to probation officers twice a week by phone and to comply with the rules of the New Hampshire Department of Children and Families, Kimball Monahan said.

McGowan’s attorney, James Klotz, could not immediately be reached for comment, but he recently told CBS Boston that his client has been clean and sober for more than two months.


“This is a young lady who obviously has an issue,” Klotz told the station. “She’s dealing with that issue; she’s done everything that the Department of Children and Family Services in New Hampshire has asked her to do.”

The video, shot by a Family Dollar employee on Sept. 18, shows McGowan sprawled out in a toy aisle as her 2-year-old daughter tries in vain to help her.

The emotional scene drew a visceral response amid the dangerous and deadly drug epidemic that is sweeping the country.

“It’s heartbreaking to see a child in that situation,” Lawrence Police Chief James Fitzpatrick said at the time. “We do see children in these kind of situations at times, and it shows you the power of addiction.”

Police said that when first responders arrived, they gave McGowan two doses of naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote. Police found drug paraphernalia in McGowan’s diaper bag, including “straws cut to three inches long” with “white powdery residue around the tips of them,” according to a police report cited by the Eagle-Tribune.


When McGowan came to, she reportedly told the officers she was tired and had simply “dozed off,” according to the police report.

Both McGowan and her daughter were taken to a nearby hospital.

The young girl was initially taken into custody by the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families but was later released to relatives in New Hampshire, according to prosecutors.

State law allows the agency to take emergency custody of a child if “the department has reasonable cause to believe a child’s health or safety is in immediate danger from abuse or neglect” and if the agency “has reasonable cause to believe that the removal is necessary to protect the child from abuse or neglect,” according to Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 119, Section 51B.

In Massachusetts, such tragic scenes have become all too common.

In fact, the state’s overdose rate is more than twice the national average, according to the Boston Globe.

“A substantial and spiking number of overdoses in Massachusetts involves both heroin and prescription drugs, something you rarely find elsewhere in the United States,” the newspaper reported.

According to Boston Magazine:

Massachusetts saw an estimated 1,659 unintentional opioid overdose deaths in 2015, according to the latest figures from the Department of Public Health. Twenty-two of them were in Lawrence, a city that officials say has become a waypoint for heroin trafficking through the Merrimack Valley to northern New England and Canada.


In an interview with CBS affiliate WBZ after the incident, McGowan said she was determined to get help for her addiction.


She said she had used fentanyl that day in September and then got a call to pick up her daughter from a relative’s home; while she was out, she said, she decided to buy diapers at Family Dollar.

“If I knew I was going to be like that, I wouldn’t have had my daughter with me,” she told WBZ. “That’s not what I want my daughter to see, her holding my hand trying to get me up and crying her eyes out.”

“It shouldn’t have happened period,” McGowan told the station. “I shouldn’t have taken anything or been where I was or who I was with.”

McGowan was released earlier this week on her own recognizance. She is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 13 for a pretrial hearing.


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