Drug dealers are 'predators' says sister of overdose victim
Her sister was an addict.
Jennifer Powell will never dispute that.
But Jolene M. Bowman didn’t deserve to die.
In July 2015, Bowman had been in recovery for 16 months, struggling to stay clean. But her dealer — Gill Dewayne Garrett of Versailles—made sobriety nearly impossible, Powell said.
“He consistently contacted her through text messages and social media,” Powell said Friday at a news conference highlighting new efforts to go after dealers like Garrett. “He played on her emotions. ... He would shame her consistently to try to bring her back into that world.”
Garrett sold Bowman a pill Bowman thought was Oxycontin. It was fentanyl, a powerful painkiller. Bowman, 37, died of an overdose on July 1, 2015.
“The dealer knew the potential of death yet he sold it to her anyway,” Powell said. “This is how a predator works. ... He preyed on her sickness to satisfy his own greed.”
80: Number of overdose deaths related to heroin, fentanyl or both in Fayette County since Jan. 1
On Thursday, Garrett was sentenced to 20 years for supplying the pill that led to Bowman’s overdose death.
Lexington police and federal prosecutors said Friday they are stepping up efforts to get more dealers like Garrett behind bars.
Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard said the department has recently doubled the number of officers in its narcotics unit. He declined to say how many officers are now in the city’s narcotics unit, saying they don’t release those types of numbers. Two officers are now focusing entirely on overdose cases. Barnard said the city’s narcotics unit now has the most officers it has ever had.
Kerry Harvey, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said that Lexington police and the federal government are working together on a new intervention for survivors of overdoses with the goal of getting more people into treatment and more drug dealers behind bars.
“We are treating overdose scenes differently not just as a medical condition or issue but as a criminal investigation,” Barnard said Friday. “We’re not criminalizing the person but the predator who is supplying the heroin or the drugs.”
All of Lexington’s officers will go through training with the U.S. Department of Justice on how to investigate an overdose, provide information and treatment to overdose survivors and go after more dealers.
“We want to know how to work better with the families,” Barnard said.
5: Number of heroin-related overdoses in Fayette County in 2011 55: Number of heroin-related overdoses in Fayette County in 2015
Harvey and Barnard said often family members are reluctant to go to police if their relative is an addict because they don’t want the user to go to jail. Barnard and Harvey stressed on Friday that law enforcement wants to go after the dealers and suppliers of the drugs, not people who use them.
Harvey said that over the past 18 months, federal prosecutors have successfully prosecuted 20 people who provided drugs to overdose victims.
Heroin use has exploded in many areas of Kentucky, including Lexington. Overdoses from heroin or a combination of heroin and fentanyl continue to climb. Since Jan. 1, 80 overdose deaths were related to heroin or fentanyl or a combination of the two in Fayette County, according to statistics released Friday. In 2011, only five people died of heroin-related overdoses.
Barnard said there were four overdoses in one specific area of Lexington on Thursday night.
Powell said she hoped the new initiative will save lives.
Powell thanked the Versailles Police Department and federal prosecutors for finding Garrett and his supplier and co-defendant Luis Aguirre-Jerardo, who will be sentenced on Dec. 8.
“It means there is one less predator on the streets,” Powell said. “And it’s a possibility that other lives will be saved.”