Today, law enforcement arrested a Cincinnati man believed to be the source of dozens of heroin overdoses in Kentucky this week, and linked to as many as 170 in his hometown.
DEA agents arrested Robert Shields for distributing fentanyl, a painkiller up to 50 times stronger than heroin. Other dealers are thought to have cut their batches of heroin with Shields’s fentanyl, which led to the sudden spike in overdoses. At least one of the overdoses was fatal. Cincinnati, where Shields was based, saw over 170 heroin overdoses during the week, an “unprecedented” spike that leveled off after his arrest, the AP reported.
Shields went by the street name “Sosa”, comparing himself to the Bolivian cartel boss featured in the movie Scarface. Sources say he was upfront about the substance he was allegedly pushing, but by the time the drug filtered down to the streets, it was marketed as heroin.
Kentucky-based client Wesley Hamm told police he bought fentanyl from Shields and sold it to a third dealer, Tracey Myers. Hamm and Myers had a long-running business relationship, they told police. Myers would give Hamm money, and he’d cross the Ohio border into Cincinnati to buy heroin, which Myers would then sell on the streets.
Things changed when Hamm’s main heroin dealer got arrested. Left without a reliable source, Hamm contacted Shields. Hamm told him he was looking for fentanyl for his personal use, but he apparently cut the heroin he was selling with the prescription painkiller to stretch his limited supply. Hamm’s regular clients didn’t know the product had changed.
Myers told police she wasn’t sure what she was selling. She’d ask Hamm to buy heroin, and she’d pass the drug off as heroin. While she knew some dealers mixed fentanyl into their product, she was “unaware if the ‘heroin’ she sold to the victims contained fentanyl or not,” according to a DEA affidavit.
The tainted heroin soon made it’s way to users in Montgomery County, Kentucky. From August 24th to August 25th, police reported 12 serious overdoses. The crisis followed a trend of 174 similar overdoses in Cincinnati, where Shields had allegedly been dealing. At least one of the Kentucky overdose victims died; survivors told police they’d purchased what they believed was heroin from Myers.
Even though Shields has been arrested, the heroin is still making it’s way to users on the street. Yesterday, two dozen overdoses were reported in Louisville, Kentucky alone. Emergency rooms within a 300 mile radius have seen an increase in overdoses, although it has now started to slow down.
DEA agents arrested Myers and Hamm, and set up a sting.
On a recorded call on August 26th, Hamm asked to meet Shields in Cincinnati to buy five grams of the “same stuff.” They met up, with police on their tail. After a car chase and an arrest, Shields led police to a Cincinnati home that contained multiple ounces of the same fentanyl he’d been supplying Hamm.
Charges filed in a U.S. District Court in Lexington, Kentucky on Monday reveal that Shields admitted to knowingly selling fentanyl. But he’d told police that the drug had been his only option.
“That’s all that’s around,” he told a DEA officer. “I had no choice!”