Heroin overdoses in Oswego leave 1 SUNY Oswego student dead, 2 others hospitalized

May 10, 2014

Story updated on Monday, May 12 at 8:00 a.m.

On the SUNY Oswego campus, students say they are still coming to terms with the weekend's heroin overdoses, in which one student died and two others were hospitalized.

Many students say they are uncomfortable talking about the subject. One student, Jessie Brandt, said she was scared when she first saw the emergency alerts on her phone.

"No matter what the event, it's always shocking that somebody in the community has passed away, especially over drug abuse and they're so young, too," Brandt said. "So I find it shocking."

The city of Oswego is also trying to cope with the rising number of heroin arrests and overdoses in the region. Common Council President Ron Kaplewicz says the city's police force is doing what it can to stop the drug's use in the city.

"It's not just here, but it's all across the state and all across this country," Kaplewicz said. "I think there's great credit to our Oswego Police Department, who has, I think, done a tremendous job in rooting a lot of this out of our community, and will continue to do that."

The heroin overdoses will be part of a previously-scheduled SUNY-wide safety conference being held later today in East Syracuse. According to SUNY Oswego, the college is addressing the resurgence of heroin in several ways, including more outreach to students, staff training and reemphasizing counseling for drug users to help them get detox and rehabilitation assistance.

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One SUNY Oswego student is dead and two others were hospitalized after heroin overdoses early Saturday morning in the city of Oswego. 

According to the Oswego Police Department, the student who died was found on campus. The other two students were found off campus and taken to Oswego Hospital, where they were treated and are recovering. Police have not released the names of the victims and have not said if the overdoses are related.

Early Saturday morning, SUNY Oswego officials sent a mass email and text message to the campus community which read "Danger: Oswego heroin may be lethal. One person is dead; two are hospitalized. Please beware!"

Oswego Police Chief Tory DeCaire says his office received two calls about suspected heroin overdoses taking place in close proximity to each other, though he would not say where. At or around the same time, SUNY Oswego Campus Police received a similar call about another apparent overdose.

DeCaire says his police officers are not currently supplied with Narcan, a drug given to people suffering from heroin overdoses that negates the effects of the drug. The student on campus was given CPR, but was pronounced dead at the hospital.

DeCaire says there isn't enough information right now to confirm if the cases are related, but that investigators are looking for witnesses.

He also says there isn't enough information to determine whether the overdoses are related to the Bridge Street Run, a non-sanctioned event that brings hundreds of SUNY Oswego students downtown to celebrate the end of the school year. All three victims were wearing white t-shirts when they were found, which is typically what students wear while attending the annual pub crawl event.

DeCaire says the Bridge Street Run has changed through the years, and has become an increasingly unhealthy environment that could become dangerous.

The event also stretches the city's police force to its limit. On a typical night, the force will deploy about 6-8 officers, but during the Bridge Street Run, the department will schedule 15-20 officers and bring in outside assistance.

DeCaire says the college, the city and  police are all discussing ways to get the event under control.

The Oswego County District Attorney's Office is also assisting in the investigation. Chief Assistant District Attorney Mark Moody says heroin has become much more available, not only in Oswego County but across the region.

Moody says in the case of an overdose, people should not be afraid to call for help. He says under the state's Good Samaritan Law, a person is granted some protection against drug possession charges if they call for help when they or someone they are with goes through an overdose. The law does not apply to those involved in drug trafficking or sales.

SUNY Oswego's Director of Public Affairs, Julie Harrison Blissert, says the incidents are a "great tragedy" and a "terrible thing," and that services are being made available on campus for students and others that may need assistance. She also said the incidents are devastating to the city and the college communities, especially with SUNY Oswego's commencement scheduled for next weekend.

Blissert says heroin is a fairly new problem to the campus, but that the college is taking action to combat the issue. She also says the college will redouble its efforts to push education and outreach opportunities about the college's drug policy.

She says the college took emergency actions to alert students of the possible dangers.

DeCaire says investigators cannot determine whether the overdoses were caused because the drugs were tainted or if the victims used too much or if the drugs were too potent. Those questions will have to wait for lab tests come back.

Oswego Police are working with SUNY Oswego Police on the investigations. Anyone with information can call the Oswego Police Department at 315-343-1212 or SUNY Oswego police at 315-312-5555.

A second incident also occurred Friday night, this one near the Route 104 and Washington Boulevard intersection. DeCaire says a trolley was making a turn at around 11:30 p.m. Friday, when it struck two students. He said the students were taking part in the Bridge Street Run. One of the students suffered minor injuries. The second was airlifted to a Syracuse hospital and is currently listed in good condition.