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)
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 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
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
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
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.
Worcester Telegram & Gazette