Two men died Monday morning from a suspected drug overdose in Lawrence, and a hazmat team was called to the scene after officials noted the possible presence of a dangerous substance used to tranquilize elephants, officials said.
The victims were discovered at 194 Garden St. shortly before 6 a.m., and authorities alerted the specialized team because they suspected the presence of carfentanil in the residence, according to the Essex district attorney’s office.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has described carfentanil as “one of the strongest opioids available” that is used to sedate large animals including elephants but is not approved for humans.
Carrie Kimball Monahan, a spokeswoman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office, had no immediate information on the ages of the victims, but she said all parties were male. A third man was taken to an area hospital.
His condition was not known.
Lawrence police Chief James X. Fitzpatrick told reporters at the scene that authorities were concerned for the safety of first responders and he lamented the loss of life.
“This is a tragic, tragic day,” he said. “Unfortunately we’re seeing this way too often, not only in the city of Lawrence but throughout the region.”
The 911 call came from the surviving victim, who told police that the three men had been “partying all afternoon” and “at some point overnight, it went awry,” said Lawrence Detective Thomas M. Cuddy.
David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, stressed in an e-mail that investigators had not yet determined Monday whether the “substance used by the victims was carfentanil.”
“If we recover evidence from the scene that can be tested at our drug lab we will expedite that testing,” Procopio wrote. “At this point the facts and circumstances of the deaths, including the cause, and whether there is evidence suitable for drug analysis, remains under investigation.”
He said in a follow-up statement that officials were processing the scene for evidence and that they will “investigate the source of the narcotics taken by the victims. State Police forensic units will continue to work to determine the substance involved in the deaths.”
Procopio reiterated in the statement that the presence of carfentanil has not been confirmed. He said the State Police crime lab “has tested four narcotics samples that were positive for carfentanil in recent months. To date, the State Police are not aware of confirmed fatalities in Massachusetts from the drug.”
Phone numbers for the listed for the owner of the Garden Street property were not in service on Monday, and attempts to reach neighbors for comment by phone were unsuccessful.
Lawrence police were called previously to the address on May 14 for an incident listed in the department log as “keep peace,” records show. Further details of that call were not immediately available.
Last fall, the DEA’s then-acting administrator, Chuck Rosenberg, warned of the dangers of carfentanil.
“Carfentanil is surfacing in more and more communities.” Rosenberg said in a statement. “We see it on the streets, often disguised as heroin. It is crazy dangerous. Synthetics such as fentanyl and carfentanil can kill you. I hope our first responders – and the public – will read and heed our health and safety warning. These men and women have remarkably difficult jobs and we need them to be well and healthy.”
The DEA said that only “properly trained and outfitted law enforcement professionals should handle any substance suspected to contain fentanyl or a fentanyl-related compound.Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.