Three Troutdale men who supplied a lethal heroin dose to a local man have pleaded guilty to drug charges and will serve time in the state penitentiary.
Prosecutor Ryan Lufkin said the victim - Jason Greer, 33, of East Multnomah County - is one of a growing number of chronic pain sufferers turning from high-priced prescription medicine to heroin.
The results are increasingly fatal.
In such cases, the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, with help from the U.S. Attorney's Office, are prosecuting the drug dealers to hold them accountable for their customers' deaths.
'This is selling things that kill people,' Lufkin said. 'This is not a victimless crime.'
Jason Greer was a Centennial High School graduate, a single father who coached his 10-year-old son's sports teams and an avid outdoorsman.
He died in January after overdosing in the home he shared with his mother and son.
Police arrested Arturo Bugarin-Cruz, 25, Miguel 'Alex' Celis-Real, 18, and Heriberto Vargas-Medina, 25 - all of Troutdale - on drug charges and allegations that they supplied heroin to Greer.
A two-part series on the investigation leading to the arrests appeared in The Outlook in late May and early June.
'They ran the operation like a pizza delivery service,' Lufkin said. Orders are taken by phone. A runner delivers the drugs. And the boss gets the money at the end of the day.
Detectives are still investigating allegations the three men also supplied heroin to another man, Jeremiah Alden, 32, of Portland who overdosed on heroin in Gresham on Feb. 26.
Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Stephen K. Bushong sentenced the men on Friday, Oct. 7, after they all pleaded guilty to delivering heroin to Greer.
Vargas-Medina, the boss, will spend four years in prison. Celis-Real, the middleman, will spend two years in prison. The runner or street dealer, Bugarin-Cruz, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. That extra day means the difference between him serving his time in the county jail or state prison.
The boss and the runner also will be deported to Mexico after serving their sentences because they are in the country illegally, Lufkin said.
The sentences reflect 'their level of criminality,' or involvement, Lufkin said.
They're also similar to those issued in another local drug overdose case that resulted in the 2008 death of a Damascus teen.
In that case, three Troutdale men received sentences ranging from one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half years in prison for supplying a fatal dose of Oxycodone to a Barlow High School student. The drugs supplied in that deal resulted in the death of Rachel Daggett, 18, of Damascus.
Greer's death is nothing short of tragic, Lufkin said. Greer was a beloved son and brother who worked as a loss prevention/security guard for WinCo. He also was raising his son as a single father.
In April 2010 Greer had back surgery for two herniated discs because of a high school football injury, said his mother Kathy Greer. Within weeks, while still recuperating, he re-injured his back. But his doctor refused to perform another surgery, saying Greer was too young and his body builder's physique too heavy.
Instead, the doctor prescribed Greer a limited amount of OxyContin for pain.
Eventually, the prescription ran out and, despite the pain, Greer returned to work in September 2010. Seeking pain relief, he began to purchase pain pills illegally. Then he turned to heroin, which kills pain just as effectively if not more so, and is significantly less expensive, Lufkin said.
Lufkin said a staggering number of prescription drug users are turning to heroin. According to a December 2010 survey of people who use the county's syringe exchange program, 88 percent were heroin users. And 43 percent of those heroin users said they were hooked on prescription-type opiates before they began using heroin.
'You talk about gateway drugs,' Lufkin said. 'We're on the cusp of a new tidal wave of heroin overdose deaths.'
Already, the county has recorded more heroin overdose deaths this year than the 52 from 2010.
Such statistics further fuel Lufkin in his drive to prosecute the dealers behind those overdoses. 'We need to send them the message that if you're making money off people dying, we're going to hold you accountable for that,' he said.
As for Greer, Lufkin said investigators are still trying to find the dealers who worked above the three who are now behind bars. 'We still hope to put even more people in prison for Jason's death,' he added.