A man whose body was found in a trash can in the Lower 9th Ward this month appears to have suffered a fatal overdose, the parish coroner said Wednesday, adding to growing concerns in New Orleans about a spate of drug-related deaths.
An autopsy found no signs of trauma in the case of Kyle Vansickle, 29, whose body was found March 10 in a trash can in an empty lot on Lizardi Street, suggesting someone had attempted to dispose of the body.
The discovery startled neighbors, who said they had not heard anything out of the ordinary in the hours before police arrived.
The Orleans Parish coroner, Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, said Vansickle apparently had been treated for “complications of intravenous opiate drug abuse at a local hospital” shortly before his death.
“We await the official results of forensic toxicological testing to determine the presence or absence of any drugs of abuse at the time of death,” he added.
The coroner warned that Vansickle’s death could add to “the growing list of persons who have died in 2016 in New Orleans as a result of intravenous opiate abuse.”
Authorities are investigating a spike in fatal overdoses involving fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that Rouse described as “multiple times more potent than heroin.”
The city recorded a dozen deaths involving fentanyl last year, but that rate has skyrocketed in 2016 to eight fentanyl-related deaths less than three months into the new year.
“The fentanyl we’re seeing on the streets is actually synthetically made in laboratories in China and elsewhere,” Rouse said in an interview. “Now that it’s in that sphere, it makes me concerned about what other synthetic opiates are out there.”
In its legal form, fentanyl is intended to manage intense pain. Increasingly, drug dealers have introduced it into supplies of heroin, seeking to dilute the more expensive narcotic. In some cases, experienced heroin users have purchased fentanyl unwittingly and died with the needle still in their arm.
Rouse has become so worried about the trend that he convened a meeting with officials of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, New Orleans Police Department and Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.
“We develop information in the course of investigating deaths that could potentially be useful for those on the enforcement side,” Rouse said. “What I can’t stomach is simply classifying it as an opiate overdose, especially when it could be reflective of a larger trend in the drug distribution market, and then sitting on that information.”
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