LITTLE FALLS, NJ - Police believe that a heroin overdose was the cause of death of a Passaic Valley High School (PVHS) student who died last month. The case is still being investigated.
Vladimir "Bruce" Liakhnovich, 17, was found unresponsive in his residence on April 25. He later died that evening. According to Little Falls Police Chief Steven Post, police responded to a 911 call for a possible deceased male.
"Upon arrival, officers were escorted to the second floor bedroom where the patient was located," said Post. "Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was performed by a family member. Officers immediately checked for vital signs and found no pulse and no breathing."
Officers continued CPR until the arrival of emergency technicians of the Little Falls Emergency Medical Service, Post added, who took over the care of the patient. He was transported to St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson, where he was pronounced dead at 11:36 p.m.
"There was evidence at the scene of a controlled substance, specifically the use of heroin," explained Post. "The Little Falls Police Department Detective Bureau is awaiting the toxicology results and official cause of death report from the medical examiner's office."
Post noted that the case is being treated as an overdose death investigation. If anyone has information, they are urged to contact the Little Falls Police Department Detective Bureau.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Bruce lived in Verona before residing in Little Falls for the past 10 years. He loved ice hockey and played on several local and travel leagues.
According to reports, public health officials have called the current opioid epidemic the worst drug crises in U.S. history, In 2015, it killed more than 33,000 people nationwide. Referred to as the killer drug epidemic, deaths from heroin alone surpassed gun homicides in recent years and were equal to the number of deaths from car crashes.
In the Passaic Valley region, local authorities have recently commented on the rise in usage and deaths related to heroin overdoses.
This past November, two PVHS alumni died after overdosing on heroin. A 19-year-old was found in the bathroom with drug paraphernalia at a local convenience store in Totowa, after she and her alleged boyfriend stopped into the shop. After the woman had been in the bathroom for a while, a store worker got suspicious and called police. That same weekend, a young man in the township was found dead in his home after allegedly taking a lethal dose of heroin. Local police say that cheaper and more potent street versions of the drug are making it more accessible and deadly.
Local police have regularly deployed Naloxone, also known as Narcan, since they received training in the administration of the medication in 2014. In 2015, there were 98 Narcan deployments by responding law enforcement officers in Passaic County. In 2016, officers deployed the antidote nearly 90 times. This year so far, over 50 deployments have been made.
Little Falls and Totowa police have been credited in saving at least over half a dozen lives through the program.
Delivered nasally, it's designed to reverse the effects of any opioids in someone's system, only if used in time. Police statewide are carrying it in their vehicles to help individuals from overdosing. It has been used by paramedics for years.
"Sadly, police were not able to administer Naloxone in this case because because he was already unresponsive when they arrived," added Post, about Bruce Liakhnovich.
Post also commented on the dangers of exposure to fentanyl, being sold in recent years as heroin.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a nationwide alert in 2015 about the dangers of the drug, calling it "a threat to health and public safety." Fentanyl is frequently laced with heroin, exacerbating its potential for abuse. The DEA also warned law enforcement that fentanyl can be accidentally absorbed through the skin or inhaled as an airborne powder.
Law enforcement personnel who come in contact with fentanyl or fentanyl compounds are urged to take the drugs directly to a lab, where it can be safely handled and tested.
Post added that local police are continuing to track and are working towards cracking down on drug suppliers in the Passaic Valley area.