Pennsylvania Woman Killed By Counterfeit Fentanyl Pill; Dealer Charged With Her Death

Click here to read about other counterfeit medicine incidents in Pennsylvania

A Northampton County grand jury indicted a Pennsylvania man who allegedly sold counterfeit Percocet pills made with fentanyl that killed 27-year-old Kara Heckenberger, according to The Morning Call. Prosecutors allege that Gustavo Rivera sold the fake pills to Heckenberger on August 8, 2017. She suffered from gastroparesis, a chronic condition affecting the muscles that move food through a one’s stomach, and was found dead in her home in the early hours of the following day.

When police searched her room, they found a pill that resembled a Percocet, but that tests revealed contained fentanyl and heroin. Messages on Heckenberger’s phone showed a history of transactions where Rivera sold pills to the woman, including a conversation that August evening with Danielle Koehler, Rivera’s girlfriend. According to the texts, Koehler warned Heckenberger that those pills had “messed up” Rivera. A short time later, Heckenberger told Koehler that one-half of a pill made her feel like she could, “fall asleep standing up.”

At a news conference announcing the indictment, District Attorney John Morganelli said, “Although we made an arrest today, this investigation is not over.” Investigators have tied at least two other deaths in the area to counterfeit pills made with fentanyl and issued a public warning. The other two victims were not publicly identified, but it is known that they both died in Bethlehem in May.

The Lehigh Valley Live reported that Rivera was charged with one count drug delivery resulting in death and two counts of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. Defense attorney Scott Wilhelm said his client turned himself in to face justice. He also said Rivera had no knowledge that the pills were laced with fentanyl, but, “Ultimately it will be revealed where these pills came from…He’s just a middleman.”

Pennsylvania is one of 45 states in the U.S. in which counterfeit pills made with fentanyl have been found and one of 27 in which deaths have been attributed to those pills. You can read about other incidents in the Keystone State by reading PSM’s Pennsylvania 2018 Infosheet.