People Who Overdosed Earlier This Week Thought They Were Ingesting Cocaine, Instead Took Fentanyl

Sep 25, 2019

A second man has been indicted in relation to the rash of drug overdoses that occurred earlier this week in the Pittsburgh area.

There was a total of eight overdoses, three of which were fatal. Six occured on the South Side on Sunday morning, and two in West Mifflin early Monday.

Derek Omar Smith of West Mifflin is charged with one count of possession with the intent to distribute fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl. U.S. District Attorney Scott Brady said Smith could face 10 years to life in prison.

Authorities had previously announced the seven-count indictment of Peter Rene Sanchez Montalvo of Coachella, Calif., who could face 20 years to life in prison. Montalvo was arrested in McKees Rocks early Monday morning. 

At least some of those who overdosed reportedly thought they were ingesting cocaine, and not fentanyl, which is extremely potent.  Authorities say deaths and injuries linked to the false representation of substances are becoming increasingly common in Allegheny County and elsewhere. 

“It’s incredibly dangerous ... it's a huge concern,” said Brady at a Wednesday news conference at the U.S. Courthouse in Pittsburgh. 

Opioids and stimulants like cocaine affect the body in different ways. If a person doesn't have a tolerance to the drug they don't even know they're taking, they are more likely to die. 

Brady declined to say whether either Smith or Montalvo knew the substance they allegedly distributed, or were intending to distribute, was fentanyl.

"I can't get into that, because that's part of the case," he said.

Wendell Hissrich, public safety director for the city of Pittsburgh, said at the press conference that these overdoses demonstrate that using illegal drugs is not worth the risk.

“This tragic incident and loss of lives further underscores how narcotics have changed,” said Hissrich. “While always dangerous and illegal, the illicit drug supply is more potent and deadlier than ever.”

People can screen substances for fentanyl with test strips, which can be obtained from Prevention Point Pittsburgh.