By Melissa Alonso and Amanda Musa, CNN
A suspect is in custody after five West Point cadets overdosed — four of whom were hospitalized — on the drug fentanyl while they were on spring break in Fort Lauderdale earlier this week, according to police.
Authorities in Broward County, Florida, have made the arrest of the 21-year-old man in connection to the sale of a fentanyl-laced powder substance that allegedly triggered overdoses, according to CNN affiliate WPLG.
The incident occurred in a vacation rental house in Wilton Manors, according to a news release from the Wilton Manors Police Department (WMPD).
The Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue (FLFR) responded to the house around 5 p.m. Thursday and aided six men who were feeling overdose symptoms. A seventh patient, who is a woman, was later transported to the hospital after feeling sick, police said.
A hazmat team tested the powdered material and found that it was laced with fentanyl, an opioid drug, according to the department.
Police said Friday that six West Point cadets on spring break in Fort Lauderdale were hospitalized after overdosing on a powder substance laced with the drug fentanyl. However, Lt. Col. Beth Smith, West Point director of public affairs and communications, told CNN on Saturday morning that only five of the six individuals involved in the overdose incident are cadets.
Four of the cadets required hospitalization after the incident, according to Smith.
According to the arrest report, Broward County Drug Task Force detectives responded to an overdose investigation involving multiple victims. Detectives were able to get the cellphone number “of the alleged dealer who supplied the narcotics to the victims,” as part of the investigation.
An undercover detective made contact with Axel Giovany Casseus on Friday and “purchased 43 grams of cocaine” from him in exchange for $1,000, the report said. Casseus was later arrested on charges of trafficking cocaine.
During a Saturday bond hearing, a Broward County deputy identified Casseus as the man they believe sold the laced substance to the cadets and indicated that Casseus admitted to the transaction involving the West Point students after being taken into custody, according to the CNN-affiliate WPLG.
Casseus is being held in the Broward County Jail in lieu of a $50,000 bond, according to BCSO online records. It is unclear whether he has an attorney.
Police did not provide information on the suspect or the charges in Friday’s press release.
The names of the patients have not been released, though police said the college students are from New York who were vacationing in Fort Lauderdale on spring break.
“This incident serves as a stark reminder to all, especially those visiting for Spring Break, of the deadly impacts of Fentanyl,” Wilton Manors police said in the news release.
Beth Smith, a spokesperson for the US Military Academy at West Point, acknowledged to CNN the college students were cadets and said the academy is investigating.
Local authorities are investigating the overdose incident, police said.
WMPD officers “took precautionary measures by evacuating and securing the residence due to the unidentified powdery substance,” said the press release.
Fentanyl is a synthetic drug that can be up to 50 times stronger than heroin, up to 100 times stronger than morphine and commonly resembles prescription drugs, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is often added to other drugs by dealers “because of its extreme potency, which makes drugs cheaper, more powerful, more addictive, and more dangerous,” the CDC said.
On Friday, Wilton Manors police warned in a tweet about the dangers of fentanyl.
“WMPD wants to warn spring breakers about the dangers of using illicit drugs & to avoid mixing drugs with alcohol or other forms of drugs. Protect yourself from the dangers of Fentanyl,” police said.
Last year saw a record high of drug overdose deaths, with more than 100,000 people dying from April 2020 to April 2021, according to provisional data published in November by the CDC. It was a 28.5% spike compared to the same period a year earlier and nearly doubling over the past five years.
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