Three men were indicted for murder after investigators tied them to the sale of fentanyl-laced pills that led to a fatal overdose in Seminole County earlier this year, Sheriff Dennis Lemma announced to reporters Thursday.
Two of the men, Vicente Díaz, 22, and Bradly Hunter, 26, are currently in the Osceola County Jail, with Hunter facing drug trafficking charges filed against him in January. The third suspect, Andres Raya, 28, who Lemma said is “two levels removed” from a Mexican drug cartel, is facing extradition from Los Angeles, Calif.
The three were tied to the death of 27-year-old Tristan Buttrum, who died Jan. 2 after taking an illegally manufactured painkiller investigators said contained a lethal dose of fentanyl.
“[Tristan] had built this dependency through no fault of his own,” Lemma said. “This is biologically what happens when somebody’s prescribed the drugs and they can no longer get the drugs. Nothing replaces that. This is a narrative that we’ve heard time and time and time again.”
Lemma said Raya was responsible for a shipment of 40,000 pills to Central Florida, with hundreds found with Hunter at the time of his initial arrest days after Buttrum’s death. No court records of the indictment were immediately available Thursday.
Buttrum’s mother, Stacey Felter, said her son was addicted to Percocet, a painkiller initially prescribed to him by a doctor after suffering a stabbing five years ago. Felter described Buttrum as an athlete, a “feisty” child who fought to recover from an attack she said nearly killed him. Around the time of his death, she added, he was attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings but still struggled with drug dependency.
“He was a wonderful son, but he did struggle,” Felter said. “… Today I am standing here with all the courage he is providing me to say for the first time that my son was murdered. He did not choose this.”
Fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. have risen in recent years, with about 106,000 people killed in 2021, more than twice as many as there were in 2015, according to the most recent national data from the National Institutes of Health. Deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl have skyrocketed within that same period, making up most of the drugs involved in deadly overdoses.
Project Opioid found overdose deaths decreased in Florida in 2022, with Orange and Seminole counties seeing deaths dropping by 11%, respectively, while deaths dropped 2.6% statewide.
So far in 2023, Seminole County has reported 518 drug overdoses, 87 of which were fatal, representing a more than 20% drop for both overdoses and overdose deaths from the previous year. At Thursday’s press conference, Lemma encouraged people to carry naloxone, known usually as the brand Narcan, a nasal spray used to temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It was approved for over-the-counter sale by the federal Food and Drug Administration earlier this year.
First responders have increasingly been equipped with Narcan and organizations like Project Opioid offer the medication for free.
“This is not a situation of trying to make bad people good; it’s a situation of trying to make sick people well,” Lemma said. “And if we treat this with kindness and compassion or at least the people who are dependent and addicted to the substances, it changes what we’re able to do.”