Three New York professionals died of fentanyl overdoses after ordering cocaine from the same drug delivery service, leading to charges for the dealer behind the deliveries.
“Julia was a driven professional with everything to live for. Never in a billion years would she have touched anything with fentanyl,” Sassan Ghahramani, whose daughter Julia Ghahramani died of a fentanyl overdose, told the Wall Street Journal in a report Sunday. “This is like putting bullets in people’s brains.”
Julia Ghahramani, a 26-year-old lawyer who had just started her first job, died of a fentanyl overdose in March 2021 after. That same day, 40-year-old trading executive Ross Mtangi and 38-year-old social worker Amanda Scher also died of a fentanyl overdose. The three professionals all ordered cocaine from a GubHub-like delivery service on the same day, but the drugs turned out to be laced with a deadly amount of fentanyl.
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The alleged drug dealer in the cases, Billy Ortega, is now facing charges of causing the three deaths and distributing drugs. He has pleaded not guilty in the case and is awaiting trial.
Prosecutors allege that Ortega was a stay-at-home dad selling drugs out of his house in rural New Jersey and that he used a courier, Kaylen Rainey, to deliver the drugs. Rainey was living in a Manhattan apartment registered to Ortega’s family, receiving text message instructions for deliveries from Ortega.
Rainey has also pleaded not guilty to causing the three deaths and distributing drugs.
Cocaine is a popular drug among professionals in New York City, with health officials estimating usage rates in the city are well above the 2% rate seen across the rest of the country. But health officials have also begun to alert users to a deadly trend in the cocaine market, telling users to be wary that many dealers have now begun mixing fentanyl into their batches.
New York City recorded 980 cocaine-related deaths in 2020, with 81% of those deaths being linked to fentanyl. Meanwhile, the rate of people dying from cocaine use alone has remained in the low hundreds, according to New York City health department data.
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Ghahramani, Mtangi, and Scher all fell victim to the new trend, a possibility Ortega seemingly realized shortly after the three received their drug deliveries.
“Hey try not to do too much because it’s really strong,” Ortega said to Scher in a text message shortly after she received the delivery.
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“Hey boss lady you heard,” another text read, which was followed by three unanswered FaceTime audio calls.
“Hey can you give me a call back I need to ask you something real fast,” another text from Ortega read the next morning. Ortega also tried to reach Ghahramani, failing to reach her after calling seven times.
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The three deaths have now left a void for their families, who have stressed the dangers associated with accidentally ingesting fentanyl.
“She made a mistake,” Sassan Ghahramani said of his daughter. “She had a hit of coke and unbeknownst to her it was loaded with fentanyl and it killed her.”