EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 14, 2014

Police: Drugs may be cause of woman's death

Police: Heroin may be to blame

By Jo-Anne MacKenzie

---- — SALEM — A 28-year-old Salem woman is dead, possibly from a heroin overdose.

Police and fire personnel broke into a room at the Red Roof Inn just before 2:30 a.m. yesterday.

They found the woman, whose name has not been released, unconscious and unresponsive, Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten said.

Emergency personnel tried to revive the woman, but were unsuccessful. The state medical examiner also responded to the scene and her body was removed several hours later.

Detectives found what appeared to be heroin and drug paraphernalia in the room, Patten said. The inn is located just off S. Policy Street.

“We won’t know the cause of death until we get drug screening reports,” Patten said, “but we continue to let people know about what appears to be a tainted batch of heroin out there.”

It’s the fourth apparent drug overdose in Salem in recent weeks, but the only one that has proven fatal.

On Jan. 27, two young people were found unconscious in a car at 12 Ticklefancy Lane. A 21-year-old man was treated and released. His companion, a 20-year-old Haverhill, Mass., woman remains in a Boston hospital in critical condition, according to police.

A week later, police charged the overdose victims’ companion, Jeffrey Pickett, 22, with felony possession of heroin and a misdemeanor charge for possession of marijuana.

At the time, Patten said Pickett had been uncooperative in the investigation into the source of the heroin.

Police believe the group purchased heroin in Lawrence, then snorted it on the way back to Salem.

Police believe fentanyl-laced heroin is circulating in the region. Fentanyl, an extremely powerful opiate, is sometimes used to cut heroin — or even sold as heroin — and often results in fatal or serious consequences for users.

Less than 24 hours after that incident, a 21-year-old man overdosed on Bluff Street. He was an acquaintance of the people found on Ticklefancy Lane, Patten said.

The third victim was revived. No charges have been filed in that case.

Patten said yesterday it was too soon to say whether there would be charges related to the woman’s death.

She was alone in the motel room when emergency responders found her, he said.

But several people who responded to the scene early yesterday have been questioned, he said, and the case is active.

He couldn’t say when toxicology reports would be available because it depends on the backlog at the state laboratory.

The number of drug overdoses in Salem continues to climb, mirroring what’s happening around the region and the rest of the country. In 2011, Salem saw 18 drug overdoses, 19 a year later and 25 overdoses in 2013.

But the problem extends well beyond Salem. Portsmouth police last month issued a warning to heroin users there about especially potent or tainted drugs. That was after three people overdosed, one of whom died.

In response to the threat, police from the Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts state troopers and an FBI agent joined forces last week in an effort to get as much of the drug as they could off the streets.

Police arrested 30 people in Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill. Those arrested were from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.