Traverse City Record-Eagle


May 19, 2011

Drug problems on rise in Benzie County

Alleged Monday overdose is third fatality since March

BEULAH — Family members and authorities are scrambling for answers as the death toll mounts in a rash of Benzie County drug overdoses.

Authorities found a man, 25, dead of a suspected overdose in his parents' Benzonia home late Monday. That comes on the heels of Onekama resident Nikita Cheyenne Wheeler's apparent overdose death. She died May 14 at a home in Benzie County's Blaine Township.

And toxicology tests also recently confirmed that Beulah resident Michael Lee Everett, 21, died of a heroin overdose in March.

"We've been seeing an increase of this type of stuff in Benzie County," Benzie County Sheriff Rory Heckman said. "It's a trend we've been noticing, and obviously when people are dying as a result of it, it's more alarming."

Especially troubling is the young ages of the victims, Heckman said.

"They're making poor choices, obviously, but you hate to see them pay with their lives," he said.

The Benzonia man, who also had various downstate addresses, was dead when medical crews arrived at the home. His sister found him and called authorities, Heckman said. His parents were out of town and authorities are waiting to speak with them before releasing his name.

"Once again, he's another IV drug user, and we'll have to figure out what killed him," Heckman said. "Whatever he took, he injected."

Wheeler was at a party and ended up at a friend's residence in Blaine Township. Friends called authorities when they found her unresponsive. She was in possession of pills prescribed to her, Heckman said, but it's not clear if they caused the overdose.

"It's common practice to trade pills for other drugs, and we don't know if that happened in this case," Heckman said.

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