Spring Break Gone South – West Point Military Cadets Overdose on Fentanyl

March 22, 2022 Criminal Defense, Drug Charges

A group of cadets from the U.S. Military Academy of West Point in New York had a deadly encounter this Spring Break after overdosing on illegal substances supposedly laced with fentanyl. Out of the group of six young men, five overdosed and law enforcement in South Florida had to be called in order to save their lives.

The scary situation led to cardiac arrest, trips to the emergency room, and one arrest made so far. So far, all of the cadets have managed to survive, despite receiving Narcan and spending time in the intensive care unit. This story highlights how deadly illegal substances can be, and how fentanyl is sweeping through the state of Florida.

A review of the horrifying incident, along with the repercussions will be reviewed, as well as how the state of Florida is currently working towards putting a stop to the fentanyl issue.

What was the Incident?

Fort Lauderdale Police and Fire Rescue were called onto the scene in Wilton Manors, Florida, on Thursday, March 10th, 2022, around 5pm. As soon as they arrived, they could see there was a medical emergency, as six young men were laying in the front yard in cardiac arrest.

Paramedics and police both began administering chest compressions to the young men. They presumed it was an overdose situation and decided to quickly use the drug Narcan, which is commonly used for overdoses because it restores a person’s breathing which is stopped by the drug or drugs in their system. Heartbeats were regained in a few of the cadets after receiving Narcan, however four were still experiencing respiratory arrest while they were being transported to a nearby hospital.

In total there were six people in the group, all in their young twenties. Four of the six had taken a substance they believed to be cocaine; however it became apparent that it was laced with fentanyl, which caused them to go into cardiac arrest. The other two friends attempted to give them CPR on their own before the police were called but were then exposed to the opioid from the contact. The two who were exposed from administering CPR also went into cardiac arrest.

The Wilton Manors Police Department secured the residence and the illegal substance, which was then handed off to the Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Hazmat Team. The white, powdery substance was tested and revealed to in fact be laced with the powerful synthetic opioid drug, Fentanyl.

Of the group that went into cardiac arrest from the deadly drug, four cadets—including one West Point football player—were taken to the hospital. As of Friday, two of the cadets were in critical condition and had to be taken into intensive care units. Another young man was in stable condition, and the other had already been released from the hospital.

Only one person has been arrested so far, which was announced by the Wilton Manors Police Department late Friday night. The arrest was made by the city police and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, however no further details have been released so far. The Broward County Sherriff’s Office has refused to give any comment.

What were the Responses?

After the initial incident, the Wilton Manors Police Department released a post on their Facebook page addressing what happened with the West Point students. In their statement, they addressed that they will be partnering with other agencies to work towards investigating the incident further and providing more information as it becomes available.

Fort Lauderdale Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Gollan spoke with WTVJ regarding the drug incident, stating: “Fentanyl has 1,000 times the power of the same dose of morphine, it’s extremely, extremely potent, and can stop your heart and respirations…These are healthy, young adults, college students in the prime of their life, and getting this drug into their system, it’s unknown what the recovery will be.”

Gollan went on to explain that going into a situation with so many people down and out from cardiac arrest poses a problem for paramedics, who have to help so many people at the same time.

In terms of fentanyl, Gollan made it clear that it is an extremely issue in the area, especially with the ongoing Spring Break that brings so many visitors to Florida for partying. “This is extremely alarming to us, here we are in the first week of Spring Break and we have something like this take place,” Gollan said. “Obviously if there’s a bad batch, it’s normally not isolated just to one buyer, it normally goes to everyone that purchased that same substance from whoever they got it from. It brings great concern that there could be other ODs over the next couple of days just basing what we’re seeing with the fentanyl that was here.”

Although West Point University has not yet provided any statements, the Military Academy had a spokesperson acknowledge the situation regarding the young cadets. “[The Academy] is aware of the situation involving West Point cadets…The incident is currently under investigation and no other details are available at this time,” the West Point spokesperson told NPR.

The press release from the Wilton Manors Police Department states, “This incident serves as a stark reminder to all, especially those visiting for Spring Break, of the deadly impacts of Fentanyl. This synthetic opioid continues to have detrimental impacts on many communities, and our agency remains committed to drug prevention and intervention initiatives. Our agency also remains committed to investigating and prosecuting acts of illegal drug activity.”

Fentanyl on the Rise – Scary Statistics

Fentanyl is a powerful pharmaceutical synthetic opioid that can be approved by a doctor for the treatment of severe pain. When fentanyl is illicitly manufactured and ingested, it can become deadly. Since 2013, there has been a drastic increase in overdoses caused by fentanyl, which has been found contaminated in heroin, cocaine, and other illegal substances like marijuana. To read about Florida’s growing problem with marijuana-laced fentanyl, visit our blog here.

The incident with the West Point cadets is just another scary reminder of the rising drug epidemic in the United States. Just in November the government marked that drug-related deaths went up to the six figure mark—the first time it has done so in any year. Between April 2020 and April 2021, over 100,000 people in the U.S. have died of overdoses.

Fentanyl is a substance that has also been found in more and more drugs across the nation. It has displaced heroin, is found in pills, and is found laced in cocaine like it was found in the case of the West Point students. Data from one study shows that there were over 64,000 deaths linked to fentanyl by the end of April 2021. That means there have been more deaths caused by the opioid than from any other illegal drug in 2016.

Gollan informed the New York Times that his unit alone has responded to 215 possible overdoses this year. Authorities are sending out urgent warnings to young people regarding Fentanyl exposure. With Spring Break currently underway for both high school and college students across the country, police are worried about the potential overdoses that could arise from illegal drug use. A further warning was tweeted out by the Wilton Manors police, in hopes to inform and educate young Spring Break goers.

Florida Lawmakers Failing to Fight Fentanyl

In Palm Beach County, the State Attorney has been fighting towards making fentanyl testing strips legal. Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are a form of inexpensive drug testing technology that is able to detect whether or not there is the presence of the deadly opioid substance in other illegal drugs such as cocaine. To read more about Florida’s two attempted bills to fight fentanyl, read our blog here.

The harsh reality is that Florida still offers little to no protection to when it comes to drug users. Only recently in 2019 did Gov. Ron DeSantis pass the Infectious Disease Elimination Act (IDEA) which allows county commissions to authorize sterile needles and syringe exchange programs for people who inject drugs.

The biggest issue lawmakers worry about with passing these types of laws is that it will instead promote drug use rather than help or eliminate it. However, according to the DEA there has been a serious increase with overdose deaths involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which went up over 55% from 2020 to 2021.

If Florida lawmakers view the decriminalization of the use and sale of test strips and see the issue as an overall public-health issue, it could result in fewer overdoses. Instead of worrying about the use of drugs, it may be beneficial to view these strips as potential life savers.

Finding a Drug Crimes Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one is facing drug charges in Florida, it can feel like all hope is lost. The first thing you should do is reach out to a skilled defense attorney in your area. No matter what the incident was, getting caught with illegal substances can lead to life altering consequences. Receiving the legal advice and guidance from a knowledgeable defense attorney can make the difference in a case. Don Pumphrey and his legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients all across the state of Florida for various charges. Call (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today for a free consultation regarding your case.

Written by Karissa Key

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