HARTFORD -- The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut has teamed up with the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration to crack down on drug dealers linked to overdose deaths across the state.
The initiative began in February of 2016.
Since that time, federal prosecutors have tried roughly 90 cases of dealers linked to an overdose death. Before February of 2016, they were only trying one to two of these cases each year.
“He really, really was just such a happy kid,” said Debbie Breton, Lukas’ mother. She described her son as a boy who had big, beautiful eyes, and was always smiling.
She said, however, her son began to face challenges his senior year in high school, after he was prescribed the opioid pain killer Vicodin for a badly broken leg he suffered following a skiing accident.
Shortly after, Lukas developed a bout of anxiety, later diagnosed as severe anxiety and depression. His mom said the anxiety worsened during his first semester at college. Debbie explained they tried to get him appropriate help from doctors both at home in Connecticut and at his college, but that by the end of his first semester he had only become worse.
“He was getting really sick, he was vomiting and I finally looked at him and said, ‘Lukas, what is going on here? Something’s not right, you have to tell me’,” Debbie said.
She said that’s when her son admitted he had been self-medicating with pills from the black market and that he needed help. His parents signed him up for a rehabilitation facility in California. He was there for 30 days. When he returned home his family saw a major improvement.
That changed, however, after a new psychiatrist Lukas was seeing prescribed him an addictive medication, sending him into relapse, according to Debbie.
She said one Friday night he linked up with another guy he met in rehab.
She went on to say that same night Lukas came home, said goodnight to his parents and went up to his room.
“I believe it was his first and last sniffing heroin,” Debbie said, still stunned at the turn of events. She said the next morning she let him sleep in, eventually heading into his room to wake him up.
“There he was just lying in his bed, cold, blue, I knew he was gone,” Debbie described sullenly.
That same morning is when investigators stepped in.
“We start with the victim’s phone and we start with the people around the victim at the time, the last 24 hours of their life,” said Robert Spector, Chief of Violent Crimes and Narcotics Unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Investigators used Lukas’ cell phone to track down his Avon connection, who’s phone ultimately led them to the dealer in Hartford.
“Before we used to talk about drug dealing some people used to refer to it as a victimless crime,” Spector said, adding that is no longer the case. He went on to say, “We do the cases to give the victim’s family a voice in court.”
Spector explained a key part of their initiative is a new protocol and training of select members of local police departments to better treat an overdose scene as a crime scene.
“Making sure anything around the body is preserved it could be a cell phone it could be a pill bottle, it could be a single pill, it could be a baggie,” Spector explained. He said a common charge dealers are now facing is sale of heroin, which has a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison, although many of the dealers see a much lesser sentence.
Spector added that catching the local dealer is only part of their mission.
“Our goal is to then find the bigger source after that and just keep going up and up,” he said, adding that by finding the bigger source authorities can better track down the people responsible for selling large amounts of heroin or fentanyl to the local dealers.
Spector pointed out Fentanyl is a “game changer” for Connecticut’s fight against the opioid crisis.
The State’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported that fentanyl related overdose deaths jumped from 189 in 2015 to 483 in 2016. The same data also revealed that by the end of 2017 the number of fentanyl related overdose deaths are projected to surpass the overdose deaths caused by heroin by an estimated 130.
Fentanyl was also the cause of death for Lukas.
“We ended up finding out that there was Fentanyl in that heroin. So that dealer knew what he was putting in there that he was possibly making a death sentence for someone,” Debbie said.
For the grieving mother, having her son’s dealer locked up is helpful to her healing, but will never bring her son back.
“I hope it sends a message to others that are dealing and doing this that you will get caught and you will be punished,” Debbie said.
Cintron was sentenced to five years in federal prison.