Heroin Dealer Faces 20 Years for 2016 Overdose Outbreak In West Virginia

By Paul Gaita 01/16/17

The overdose survivors provided info to the police which led to the dealer's arrest last September. 

Lamar Griggs
Lamar Griggs Photo via YouTube

An Ohio man is facing up to 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to distributing heroin mixed with fentanyl and carfentanil that caused 26 overdoses in a five-hour period last summer.

According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office in West Virginia, 22-year-old Lamar "Benz" Griggs of Akron, Ohio, sold what was believed to be heroin to several individuals in the Marcum Terrace area of Huntington, West Virginia last August 15.

Approximately 26 people experienced overdoses, including several that required medical attention. Laboratory tests on those patients showed evidence of heroin, fentanyl and the elephant tranquilizer carfentanil, which is reportedly thousands of times more potent than morphine.

All 26 survived, and several provided information to the Huntington FBI Drug Task Force that they had bought the heroin from someone named "Ben" or "Benz."

Their statements were corroborated by surveillance video footage from the Marcum Terrace area, which showed a man matching Griggs' description in the act of "hand-to-hand, street-level drug distributions," according to an affidavit filed in federal court. Their information helped guide police in Tallmadge, Ohio, where Griggs was arrested and brought before a U.S. magistrate judge in the state's Northern District before he was extradited to West Virginia.

Griggs initially pleaded not guilty during a court appearance in September, but recanted during the federal trial on January 9, admitting that he was responsible for the overdoses. In his plea agreement, Griggs also accepted a sentencing enhancement; as a result, he may face up to 20 years in federal prison when sentenced this coming April.

The August overdoses caused by Griggs occurred during a particularly dangerous wave of overdoses throughout Ohio. Just days after the Marcum Terrace incidents, warrants were issued for a Huntington couple that overdosed while driving a car carrying their four-year-old daughter, who was injured when the car struck a tree. 

Reports culled by the Associated Press from police and emergency rooms claimed that more than 170 opioid overdoses occurred that week in August, with authorities suspecting at the time that heroin laced with carfentanil was the likely cause. Similar outbreaks occurred in parts of Kentucky, where one fatality was reported, and New Jersey during that same time period.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.