A 22-year-old man who set off a rash of overdoses last year in West Virginia was sentenced by a federal judge Monday to more than 18 years in prison, concluding a case that drew national attention and focused wider attention on the danger of synthetic opioids.
Bruce Griggs, of Akron, Ohio, who faced a maximum sentence of 20 years, had reached a plea agreement with prosecutors after being arrested in connection with the episode, during which 26 people were reported to have overdosed within a few hours in the city of Huntington. Griggs acknowledged distributing heroin — later found to have been laced with synthetics including fentanyl and carfentanil — and causing “multiple” overdoses.
The exact sentence was 220 months, or 18 years and 4 months. He was sentenced in Huntington.
Ahead of the sentencing, Griggs’s family had appealed to Judge Robert Chambers for leniency, saying that Griggs was a devoted family man with three young children who had helped his own single mom raise his three younger siblings. They said he began dealing drugs because he fell in with the wrong crowd.
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His attorney, Carl Hostler, contended Griggs never intended to hurt anyone and was unaware that the heroin he was dealing contained fentanyl and carfentanil. Hostler argued that the real culprit in the overdoses was the person who mixed the drugs, whose identity Griggs does not know.
Giving Griggs a strict sentence “is not going to alter supply and demand” for heroin or make any dent in the opioid epidemic, Hostler wrote in court documents.
But some in Huntington, including family members of people who overdosed, called for the maximum sentence, noting that whatever Griggs’s intentions, he still threatened the lives of dozens of people.
Just hours after Griggs sold drugs near a public housing complex in Huntington last August, 26 people overdosed, all of whom survived. But in the following days, authorities reported two fatal overdoses and initially said they were investigating if they were connected.
As part of a deal with prosecutors, Griggs pleaded guilty to a charge of heroin distribution. The plea agreement did not mention the fatal overdoses.