Two years ago, in the first days of spring, came word from the police and health authorities that something bad was about to get worse: An insanely dangerous drug called carfentanil had arrived in Maryland, and this meant even more users of heroin were likely to die in an epidemic already killing 1,400 people a week across the country.
So there was a new and alarming dimension to the crisis that had been eating away at the country from the inside, destroying lives, devastating families.
Mixed with heroin, a small amount of carfentanil can produce a high, but it also can be lethal at just two milligrams. Carfentanil is used by veterinarians as a tranquilizer for elephants, horses, hippos and other large animals. It was never meant to be used on humans.
In warning the nation, the Drug Enforcement Administration said carfentanil was 100 times as potent as fentanyl, the more common opioid responsible for thousands of overdose deaths. By summer 2016, tiny particles of carfentanil were showing up in heroin in the Midwest, and it was in Maryland by early spring 2017. Toxicologists found carfentanil in the bodies of victims in Anne Arundel and Frederick counties, and the DEA warned that more deaths could be expected.
Heroin users were warned — as they had been warned since the overdose epidemic began — not to use any of these drugs while alone. Their chances of surviving an overdose, even from the elephant tranquilizer carfentanil, improve if they are in the company of others.
So it was in late June of that year that Joseph Dolan died, alone, in a car in the parking lot of a townhouse development in Dover Township, Pa. He had just turned 19 years old. A forensic pathologist declared carfentanil toxicity as the cause of death, the first such overdose in York County.
Two months later, a detective with the Northern York County Regional Police Department decided to interview William Dolan III, the older brother of Joseph Dolan. Bill Dolan lived in Baltimore at the time.
“Bill advised that on June 27, 2017 his brother Joseph Dolan came to meet him in Baltimore,” the detective’s report of the interview says. Bill used Joseph’s cell phone to arrange to buy heroin from a dealer. The Dolans met the dealer in Woodberry, at Rockrose and Malden avenues. The dealer drove up in a blue Dodge Charger.
“Bill purchased three capsules of heroin for $6 each,” the report says. “Bill brought the heroin back to Joe’s car. Joe and Bill then ingested the three capsules of heroin by snorting them. ... Bill advised that Joe wanted to buy more heroin before he went back to Pennsylvania.”
The younger Dolan had $35 from a pawned power saw. “Bill purchased four more capsules of heroin for $25,” the report says. “Bill brought the heroin back and gave them to Joe. ... Joe then left and went back to Pennsylvania.”
Nearly 20 months after that interview, police arrested 30-year-old William Dolan on a charge of “drug delivery resulting in death.” He was arrested in Baltimore last month and is now being held in York County, where the district attorney leads the state in the use of that law, according to the York Daily Record.
The Pennsylvania statute can be used to prosecute anyone who “intentionally administers, dispenses, delivers, gives, prescribes, sells or distributes any controlled substance or counterfeit controlled substance” that causes death. A person convicted of that crime can face 20 to 40 years in prison.
According to the Record, legislative changes to the law made it easier to charge someone like Bill Dolan. “The charge has been used unequally across the state,” the newspaper’s investigation found, “and some of the most aggressive counties are in central and south-central Pennsylvania.”
Melina Zissimos-Leyrer, the mother of Bill Dolan, says he needs help for mental illness and addiction, not prison. She thinks his arrest amounts to prosecutorial overreach. She has retained an attorney to fight the charge.
Two things seem odd: Why the long interval between the determination of the cause of Joseph Dolan’s death (June 2017) and his older brother’s arrest (February 2019)? And where’s the drug dealer? Has he been arrested?
The answers should come from police, but the NYCRPD did not respond to requests for information. It was a reporter with the York Dispatch, Liz Evans Scolforo, who provided me with the police report and the detective’s affidavit of probable cause.