Volume 75, Number 15 | Aug. 31 - Sep 06, 2005

Another OD, but this time no blaring tab headlines

By Lincoln Anderson

Villager photo by Bob Arihood
L.E.S. Jewels says he was recently arrested after a New York Times article profiling heroin addicts in Tompkins Square Park.
Early Monday evening, a young homeless man was found slumped in the restroom of Rico, a Middle Eastern hookah restaurant on Avenue C, a hypodermic needle on the floor, according to police. He was taken to Beth Israel Hospital where he was pronounced dead of an apparent heroin overdose.

The day after his death there were no blaring tabloid headlines, as there were two weeks ago after two young female friends, Maria Pesantez, a New York University student, and Mellie Carballo, a Hunter College freshman, were found unconscious in an East Village housing project — not far from the scene of Monday’s overdose — after having taken heroin, and died in the hospital several hours later.

The two 18-year-old girls’ deaths were initially linked with three others Downtown that involved fatal heroin OD’s: the other victims were found in a Soho warehouse, East Village apartment and a portable toilet by Pier 54 at W. 13th St. on the Greenwich Village waterfront. Investigators probed the possibility of there being bad heroin, possibly laced with a deadly additive, on the market. But to date, none has been found.

The two women were recently determined to have died from an overdose of cocaine and heroin.

Deputy Inspector James McCarthy, commanding officer of the Ninth Precinct, said he responded to the scene on Monday night after the call came in that the man had OD’d in the restaurant’s bathroom.

McCarthy said the man went into the restaurant to use the bathroom to shoot heroin.

“He definitely was a heroin user. He had track marks on his arm,” he said. “He had needles on him and stuff. He was slumped over.”

McCarthy said he didn’t notice the man having been dressed distinctively or having any particular look, since he couldn’t get too near because of emergency medical personnel who were at the scene trying to treat the man. “Normal looking” was how he described him.

Police identified the deceased as Marlow Iverson, 24, “undomeciled.” He was apparently originally from Ohio, since that’s where investigators contacted his family, a police spokesperson said.

Ellen Borakove, a spokesperson for the Medical Examiner’s office, said a toxicology report was pending.

The deputy inspector confirmed reports of local Tompkins Square Park observers that following a recent New York Times article that profiled the park’s heroin addicts, police rounded up and arrested many local junkies. This was part of the police effort to track down sources of possible bad heroin. Police were doing buy-and-bust operations in order to confiscate the drugs and test them.

“We were concentrating on looking into the possibility of bad heroin being out there after the two girls were found dead,” McCarthy said. “But we haven’t found anything that would lead us to believe that was the case.”

Although the recent fatal OD’s of the young women drew high-profile attention, McCarthy said heroin overdoes are an ongoing problem in the East Village precinct, which includes Tompkins Square, a known heroin spot.

“I think it’s a steady thing,” he said. “I don’t see there being more people [fatally overdosing]. Until something comes out to lead us to believe there’s a bad drug out there…. What you have out here is a lot of people who use drugs.”

Although the number of OD’s might fluctuate a bit from time to time, the situation is fairly steady, he said. Asked if it seemed like there have been more drug fatalities lately, the deputy inspector said, “In my two years [at the precinct], I haven’t seen a spike. Every month you’re going to get a couple.”

John Penley, a neighborhood activist, said drug deaths are happening all the time, but don’t get covered in the media.

“I think it’s just getting attention because it was two young college students,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been covered if it was one of the regular neighborhood junkies.”

In related news, L.E.S. Jewels, a heroin addict who was profiled in the Times article, told Downtown Express photographer Bob Arihood that the Times story was inaccurate when it quoted him as saying he recently overdosed four times in one day. In fact, Jewels said, he took one dose — but almost died four times from it, each time being brought back from near death by medics.

In addition, Jewels said that shortly after the Times article appeared, he was arrested for sale of heroin to an undercover officer and held for 10 days. He claims he wasn’t in possession of heroin but that he took a plea agreement as a quick way out of jail. He claimed police were pressuring him to give them the name of the person from whom he had purchased his dope. He said several people he knows were also arrested and similarly pressured to name names.

David Rosenthal, executive director of the Lower Eastside Harm Reduction Center, however, said anecdotal evidence indicates a recent increase of overdoses. The center has been giving out a new drug, Narcan, also known as Naloxone, which can save lives when administered after an overdose. A partner or friend has to be trained on how to administer the drug.

“We’ve probably given out more Naloxone refills over the past few weeks then we have over the past few months,” Rosenthal said. A refill means that the previous prescription was used to ward off a fatal overdose.

He said the attention given to the recent overdoses was appropriate, because of the “cluster” of the five deaths. It’s possible the cause could be that the heroin is more pure, but that’s only speculation, he said.

“There’s no question something is going on out there,” he said. “There’s no question more people are being affected by the heroin, because we’ve had a cluster of overdoses. But I don’t know that anyone has a clear idea what it is.”

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