When a federal narcotics agent in Delaware wired an informant to buy heroin that might be mixed with the more deadly drug fentanyl from a suspected dealer, the gambit paid off.
The buyer spent $60 for seven blue wax paper bags bearing the name “Versace” during the deal in a Motel 6 stairwell near Newark.
But the informant returned with even more startling information that day in February 2021, according to court records.
The suspected dealer, Michael Younger of New Castle, told the informant he had to change the “stamp” or name on the bags to Versace because another customer who bought heroin with a different stamp had recently overdosed and died. Younger, however, made assurances that Versace was the “new stuff.”
Younger had even given the buyer the name of the overdose victim, according to court records. The agent later checked out the stunning information and found that the person had indeed died of a suspected heroin overdose 12 days earlier, court records showed.
Younger was arrested and charged with distribution of a substance containing fentanyl, which in recent years has been found in the vast majority of overdose deaths in Delaware, where a record of 447 people died in 2020.
A newly released state report indicates that the numbers were even higher in 2021. Through September 2021, the state had 371 overdose deaths. At that pace, there would have been 494 overdose deaths by Dec. 31. Final figures will be released in a few months.
Heroin and other drugs are often mixed with fentanyl, which is less expensive, but potentially far more deadly.
And that’s what Younger admitted doing Thursday in federal court in Wilmington, pleading guilty to distribution of a substance containing fentanyl. He now faces up to 20 years in prison and qualifies as a career criminal under federal law because he has two previous serious drug or violent felonies, authorities said.
The circumstances of Younger’s current case led a top U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent to excoriate Younger after he entered his plea.
“Younger represents the most vile and deplorable drug trafficker there is; the poison he sold resulted in the overdose death of another human being,” said Thomas Hodnett, head of the DEA’s Philadelphia office, said in a news release announcing the plea. “His actions, through the sale of illicit fentanyl, are part of why we are in the midst of the worst overdose death crisis in our nation’s history.”
Of Delaware’s 447 overdose deaths in 2020, fentanyl was involved in 372 — 83%. Statistics are not available for 2021 but the recent report said a similar percentage of deaths involved fentanyl in the three-month period ending Sept. 30.
“The proliferation of fentanyl continues to wreak havoc in Delaware communities,’’ U.S. Attorney for Delaware David Weiss said
Weiss added that federal agents and local police will remain dedicated to “removing fentanyl and other illegal drugs from our streets. Through aggressive prosecution, education, and outreach, we can work together to hold drug dealers accountable and keep our communities safe.”
Don Keister, a founder of the atTAcK Addiction group named for his son Tyler Armstrong Keister, who died of a heroin overdose in 2012, said the plague of fentanyl-related deaths is a growing tragedy in Delaware and across the country.
“It’s extremely dangerous what is out there now with this fentanyl, and it seems as though these dealers don’t really care because they feel as though, ‘Okay, we’re going to provide the high that these people want and fentanyl is a very inexpensive way to do it.”
“So my understanding is that fentanyl is in everything. Pills, these fake pills that they make, cocaine and other other drugs. And they just keep putting it in. And it seems as though you would think that they would want to keep their customers alive.”
Told of the DEA leader’s “vile and deplorable” remark, Keister didn’t disagree.
“I think it is terrible what these people who are selling do and how they have no real concern for who they’re selling to or what they’re selling. Is it deplorable? Yeah, I think it’s really bad that they’re providing this and that our country is in such a situation.
“When my son died there were 126 overdose deaths that year and here we are three or four times that.”