Tainted heroin case may be first of its kind in U.S.

(AP File)
(AP File)

CINCINNATI, Ohio (WLWT) – A man and woman from Elmwood Place, a village surrounded almost entirely by the city of Cincinnati, are in federal custody.

They’re charged in what may be the first drug case of its kind in the United States.

The key to the case is that someone who nearly died of a heroin overdose decided enough was enough.

On Aug. 21, two days before Cincinnati fire and police crews first started seeing a dramatic spike in heroin overdose cases, a person nearly died from the drug in Springfield Township.

First responders saved the heroin user with Narcan.

“If life is on the line, and we can choose life or death we should choose life, just period, end of story as to that,” Acting U.S. Attorney Ben Glassman said.

After being revived by emergency crews and taken to a local hospital, the heroin user decided to work with police and make controlled buys.

Glassman said the case shows the value of using Narcan, even beyond keeping addicts from dying.

“If you are talking about somebody who has overdosed and you’re able to revive them,” said Glassman, “and then that person understands the value in trying to cooperate with law enforcement to stop other people from suffering the same fate – that’s a very valuable thing, and it’s definitely an additional benefit to saving somebody’s life.”

On Aug. 23, the new informant called the cell number of a person known as “Dro” to buy heroin, according to a federal affidavit.

Detectives said “Dro” is actually 31-year-old Phillip Watkins.

He and 26-year-old Jeanneta Crawford were arrested last week at the apartment they share in Elmwood Place.

Cincinnati police officers and members of the Heroin Task Force had already arrested the two on the last day of August.

But according to the affidavit’s timeline, Watkins and Crawford were released from custody in Hamilton County.

The affidavit makes it clear Watkins was out of jail and back in business eight days later on Sept. 8.

What he may not have realized is that officials at the Hamilton County Coroner Crime Lab had obtained a sample of carfentanil, which allowed them to review overdose cases to see if heroin was being mixed with the powerful animal tranquilizer.

“Carfentanil is an analog of fentanyl, and it is approximately 10,000 times more powerful than morphine,” Glassman said. “Really, the only legitimate use of carfenantil that I’m aware of is as a tranquilizer for really large animals, and I’m talking, like, elephants.”

On Sept. 15, Watkins was arrested again, this time on a federal complaint, after members of the Hamilton County Heroin Task Force say he sold the informant another batch of heroin for $20.

“This is a seven-count indictment that charges the two defendants with heroin trafficking, fentanyl trafficking and carfentanil trafficking,” Glassman said.

Now Watkins and Crawford are at the center of what’s believed to be the first federal case ever involving charges of drug trafficking carfentanil-laced heroin.

“It’s the first federal carfentanil case,” Glassman said. “It’s not going to be the last.”

A woman who lives near the apartment in Elmwood Place where Watkins and Crawford were taken into custody by members of the Heroin Task Force said she’s seen what she believes are numerous drug deals.

As for Watkins and Crawford, a U.S. magistrate has ordered them both held without bond.

They’re due back in federal court next week.

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