RUMFORD — A mix of heroin and the synthetic opioid fentanyl is suspected of causing at least two overdose deaths in Oxford County, police said Thursday.
A Bethel man was found dead of a suspected heroin overdose and a Rumford man was arrested after drug agents discovered prepackaged heroin in his apartment on Oxford Avenue, according to a news release from Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant.
Joseph Turner, 33, was found dead by family members Tuesday morning at a West Bethel Road home.
Arrested and charged with Class A aggravated trafficking in heroin was Rashaud Lavoie, 22 of Rumford. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
Police responding to Turner’s death found heroin, hypodermic needles and other evidence that his death may have been caused by an overdose, Gallant and Rumford Police Chief Stacey Carter said in a joint news release issued Thursday.
Agents from the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency also responded to the Bethel scene, and through their investigation identified Lavoie as the person suspected of selling the heroin to Turner, according to the release.
“It was almost instant death,” Gallant said of Turner. He said police suspect the heroin he used was laced with fentanyl, which can be up to 50 times as potent as heroin. Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin or sold as a substitute to unsuspecting addicts.
“What we are finding in the area is a lot of heroin is mixed with fentanyl, which is causing a deadly effect, for sure,” Gallant said.
He said police would continue the investigation and were awaiting autopsy and toxicology reports to see whether they could determine whether fentanyl was involved.
After a joint investigation between the MDEA and the Rumford Police Department, a search warrant for Lavoie’s apartment at 26 Oxford Ave. was issued.
“Multiple packages of heroin, ready for distribution, along with bulk heroin were found in the apartment,” Gallant and Carter said in the release. Lavoie’s apartment is also in a “Drug-free” zone, elevating any possible charges.
In a related search at an apartment at 205 Cumberland Ave. in Rumford, police arrested Luis Rivera and Aisha Torres. Rivera was charged with obstructing government administration when he interfered with investigators and Torres with being in violation of conditions of release, Gallant said. Torres had been charged with operating under the influence, operating after license revocation and failure to stop for an officer on July 31.
One of the those suspects went unresponsive in a suspected overdose in the back of a police cruiser awaiting transport to the jail, Gallant said. He said that suspect had to be revived by paramedics with the opioid antidote Narcan. At about the same time, police received word of another overdose in Bethel, Gallant said.
“We are believing that those could all be the same mix of heroin that caused the deadly effect in Bethel,” Gallant said, “so we are continuing our investigation in hopes of trying to find out who exactly that was purchased from and who did the cutting and mixing of the fentanyl and why there was a deadly mixture because this case could go into more serious charges for other people down the road.”
Police also discovered evidence of heroin use, including packaging material and hypodermic needles, inside Torres’ apartment. Police said they found evidence that drugs had been flushed down the toilet.
Torres and Rivera were arraigned and pleaded guilty Wednesday and were subsequently released for 24 hours’ time served, according to the news release.
Lavoie’s bail was set at $5,000 and he was later taken to the Cumberland County Jail in Portland. Lavoie’s criminal record includes misdemeanor convictions for assault and theft by unauthorized taking in 2013 and for hindering apprehension or prosecution in 2014.
Turner’s death is the second in Bethel in the past two months that is being blamed on a heroin overdose.
Oxford County Sgt. Timothy Holland said Thursday of Mills’ death: “All evidence is pointing toward heroin.”
News of Turner’s death and Lavoie’s arrest came just a day after Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage held a drug crime summit in Augusta where state and federal law enforcement officers as well as other officials started to develop a focused strategy to combat the state’s growing heroin problem.
“This is an epidemic,” LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Thursday of the news out of Oxford County. She said Wednesday’s summit was part of an ongoing effort by the LePage administration to better attack the supply side of the problem.