Medical Abuse/Neglect and Suicide





Zoloft cited in jail death blamed on heroin overdose

Fitchburg man had Rx for drug

By Milton J. Valencia

June 24, 2005

An inmate at the Worcester County Jail and House of Correction who died of a heroin overdose was taking Zoloft, an antidepressant drug that when combined with heroin contributed to his death, according to a medical examiner’s report.

John Yovino, 38, of Fitchburg, was taking the antidepressant medication as a prescription when he overdosed Feb. 17, a jail official confirmed yesterday.

What remains unclear, however, is how much of the drug Mr. Yovino took before he died at the jail, which is in West Boylston. The official said jail policy requires a nurse to supervise an inmate while he takes the drug regularly rather than allowing him to stockpile the medication for use at once, but it is not known if the policy was followed.

A Worcester police investigator, speaking generally and not about Mr. Yovino, said addicts are known to use Zoloft as a street detoxification drug, in addition to being an antidepressant. Several Internet sites note the medication has been used for addicts going through withdrawal. The investigator said, however, that Zoloft could raise drug users’ tolerance for heroin, and that drug users on the medication would have to boost their heroin dosage to get high.

The amount of heroin Mr. Yovino took before dying also remains unclear. District Attorney John J. Conte, who said the death remains under investigation, said he is waiting to hear from the state medical examiner’s office. He did confirm that the cause of death was listed as acute opiate (heroin) and sertraline (Zoloft) intoxication.

Detectives have been told that Mr. Yovino bought two grams of heroin inside the jail from Victor Vargas, also known as Victor Sanchez, according to several sources familiar with the investigation. Both were confined to the jail’s Francis J. Deignan facility, a medium-security block. Mr. Vargas, 54, is also from Fitchburg, and is serving a one-year sentence for distribution of heroin. Sources said he had 7 grams of heroin smuggled into the jail through a family visit. His son, Soniell Sanchez, 25, was also in the Deignan facility when Mr. Yovino died, serving a sentence for assault and battery on a child, and is considered a suspect, sources said.

Neither of the Vargases has been charged with any crime related to the overdose.

The overdose highlighted concern about drugs getting into the jail, and within a week Sheriff Guy W. Glodis instituted reforms that he said would curtail smuggling, including the elimination of contact visits, where inmates are allowed to touch visitors. More than a dozen inmates tested positive for heroin within a day after the overdose.

Mr. Yovino’s death was the second of four that occurred soon after Sheriff Glodis took office in January. In one case, Daniel McMullen, 42, was beaten by his cellmate, Dennis Hadley, 49, and died of the injuries 20 days later. Ronald Binette, 33, hanged himself in his cell, and Pedro Alvarez, 44, died of a reported heart attack.

In addition, two inmates who had been under the sheriff’s custody recently died, one of what a jail official called natural causes and the other from injuries he suffered after hanging himself in his cell.

Jeffrey A. Turco, deputy superintendent of the jail, said Phillip G. Delianedis, a participant in the jail’s Correctional Opportunity Advancement Program, died Sunday at home, after collapsing. Mr. Conte’s office is investigating the case, following state law to probe all inmate deaths.

However, Mr. Turco said the death appears to be from natural causes. He said there is no indication the death was an overdose, saying Mr. Delianedis was tested regularly as part of his involvement in COAP. In the program, inmates nearing the end of their sentence are allowed to go home with electronic monitoring bracelets, and must attend a daily education and job training and development course. Mr. Delianedis, 45, had been convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon, and possession of heroin.

Mr. Conte’s office is also investigating the death of Jesse Matthews, 34, who died Sunday after he allegedly tried to hang himself in the jail on June 5. Mr. Turco said Mr. Matthews had shown medical problems before he hanged himself. Nurses checked his cell regularly to make sure he was OK, he said. Later in the morning, he was found hanged with his bed sheet.

Mr. Turco said correction officers quickly removed the noose and resuscitated Mr. Matthews, and he was taken to a Worcester hospital. He died Sunday.

Mr. Matthews had been in jail after being arrested in Leominster on outstanding warrants from Northampton. While he was in the hospital, a judge released Mr. Matthews on his own recognizance, Mr. Turco said. So, he said, Mr. Matthews was not in jail custody when he died.

Copyright 2005 Worcester Telegram & Gazette

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     Last Updated on Wednesday August 29, 2007.