On a recent Saturday night and with the kids in a relative’s care, Cory Bruce and his wife, Michelle Eynouf, decided to have an “adult night.”
Before heading to the house for some rum drinks and to watch the Rams game, they stopped at a gas station near Glenstone Avenue and Division Street.
They planned to get a pack of cigarettes, Eynouf said, but after making a spur-of-the-moment decision, her husband purchased a small packet of what he thought was heroin.
Less than an hour later, both were unconscious from a suspected opioid overdose.
Eynouf, who said she took a small taste of the drug and knew something was wrong, was released from the hospital the following day.
Bruce, who used more of the drug despite protests from Eynouf, never regained consciousness and died on Nov. 25 after five days in the ICU at Mercy.
Eynouf, with Cory Bruce’s sisters and his mother by her side, spoke with the News-Leader two days before her husband’s funeral.
“I don’t want him to have died in vain,” Eynouf said, wiping away tears.
Older sister Quincy Bruce nodded.
“He would want us to do this for him,” Quincy Bruce said. “I just want his story told. I want there to be awareness.”
A photo of Cory Bruce, who died on Nov. 25 after fiveBuy Photo
A photo of Cory Bruce, who died on Nov. 25 after five days in the ICU at Mercy from what appears to be an overdose of fentanyl. (Photo: Nathan Papes/News-Leader)
Though toxicology reports are not back yet, it appears Cory Bruce overdosed on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is often mixed with or sold as heroin to increase potency and profit.
Dealers often do not know or do not tell buyers about the fentanyl.
Though it is cheaper and easier to make (it is man-made, so there is no need for a crop of poppy plants), fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin.
Family members are adamant there is no way Cory Bruce would have knowingly bought fentanyl.
Michelle Eynouf, right, the wife of Cory Bruce, and Quincy Bruce, Cory’s sister, talk about his life and the circumstances that led to his death on Nov. 29, 2017. Bruce died Nov. 25 after five days in the ICU at Mercy from what appears to be an overdose of fentanyl. Nathan Papes/News-Leader
Recalling what she could from the night of the overdose, Eynouf said she and her husband pulled up to the gas station, and Cory Bruce went inside for several minutes.
After a while, Bruce returned to the car and a man Eynouf had never seen before pulled up beside them. Bruce gave the stranger $20 in exchange for drugs.
“Just because somebody says something is OK or it appears to be OK or they appear to be your friend, they don’t care what happens to you or what happens to your family,” Eynouf said, crying. “My kids lost their father over $20.”
“We just want to get the story out there that there is somebody in Springfield that is tricking people, that is taking family members away from families, fathers away from kids, husbands away from wives,” she continued, “so they can make money.”
Eynouf and his sisters said Cory Bruce was not a regular heroin user. They point to his clean urine analysis results from the night of the overdose as proof. If he used heroin, it would have shown up on the test results.
Tom Van De Berg, Greene County medical examiner.Buy Photo
Tom Van De Berg, Greene County medical examiner. (Photo: News-Leader file photo)
Eynouf’s urine test also came back clean — a common occurrence with fentanyl overdose related deaths, according to Greene County Medical Examiner Tom Van De Berg.
Because it is a synthetic opioid, fentanyl doesn’t show up on standard hospital drug screens, he said.
However, if the person dies and the body winds up in Van De Berg’s office, he will send a sample off to be tested specifically for fentanyl.
In 2017, fentanyl-related overdose deaths surpassed the number of heroin overdose deaths in Greene County, Van De Berg said.
As of September, there were 45 opioid overdose deaths in Greene County. Of those, 15 were from fentanyl, eight were heroin and the rest were prescription drugs.
Back in 2015, Van De Berg told the News-Leader he had seen one overdose from heroin laced with fentanyl.
Across the nation, fatal overdoses of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids more than doubled in just one year, soaring from 9,945 to 20,145 as of January 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Carfentanil — an even more deadly synthetic opioid making its way around the nation— is 100 times more potent than heroin and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Carfentanil is intended to be used as a general anesthetic agent for large animals like elephants.
As of yet, there have been no reported overdose deaths in Greene County due to carfentanil. But it’s only a matter of time, said Springfield Police Lt. Eric Reece, special investigations commander over the Narcotics and Gang Vice Unit.
“It’s expected to be here,” Reece said. “If we have fentanyl, we will have carfentanil too. Those usually go hand in hand.”
‘It’s a different animal’
Reece said Springfield police started finding fentanyl mixed with heroin last year.
Because of the overdose risks to officers who might accidentally touch or breathe in tiny amounts of fentanyl or carfentanil, Springfield officers recently changed how they work drug cases involving an unknown powder.
“We changed our protocol for field testing. We follow DEA recommendations now,” Reece said. “We have stopped doing (field tests for unknown powders) because if fentanyl gets dispersed in the air, we breathe it in and we could overdose.”
If for some reason a field test is necessary, Reece said officers wear masks and gloves. And there will always be at least two officers present so if one overdoses, the other can administer Narcan (naloxone).
Officers are prepared to administer Narcan to their K9 partners as well.
“It’s very scary,” he added. “It’s pretty powerful stuff. It doesn’t take much to knock somebody down.”
Narcan can be administered with a nasal spray, autoBuy Photo
Narcan can be administered with a nasal spray, auto injector or with a needle. (Photo: Jackie Rehwald/News-Leader)
Reece said drug users are at high risk because even if they trust a dealer, they don’t typically know who the dealer bought from.
“Somewhere along the lines, someone is going to mix their heroin with fentanyl to increase the amount they have, which increases their profit,” Reece said. “If you are used to taking a half gram of heroin once a day and you take a half gram of heroin mixed with fentanyl or it’s fentanyl only — that is a massive difference in how potent it is. That is what ODs people.”
Another particularly scary thing about fentanyl and carfentanil is that the usual dose or two of Narcan, the opiate antidote, doesn’t always work to bring someone back from an overdose, he said.
“It’s a different animal than everything we’ve dealt with before,” Reece added.
Family members who were present the night Cory Bruce died said he was given at least four doses of Narcan before being transported to the hospital.
Eynouf said even the small amount of the drug she consumed had a powerful effect.
“I told him something was wrong with it, not to do it,” she recalled. Feeling dizzy, she went outside to get some air and collapsed in the yard.
“I couldn’t move. I could barely sit up. I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I felt like I was dying.”
Photos of Cory Bruce, who died on Nov. 25 after fiveBuy Photo
Photos of Cory Bruce, who died on Nov. 25 after five days in the ICU at Mercy from what appears to be an overdose of fentanyl. (Photo: Nathan Papes/News-Leader)
A bull in a china shop
Cory Bruce’s sister Quincy Bruce reached out to the News-Leader shortly after her brother’s death.
“My brother was a good man and made this one mistake,” she wrote. “I don’t want other people to make the same mistake.”
Quincy Bruce arranged for her sister, Cissy Bruce; their mom, Karen Dunham; and Bruce’s wife, Michelle Eynouf, to be there for the News-Leader interview.
When asked if Cory Bruce struggled with addiction, Eynouf shook her head.
There had been times in the past, but in the last year it was “pretty much not existent,” she said. Buying drugs that night, she said, was something Cory Bruce did on impulse.
“It was just a one-time thing,” Eynouf said. “He didn’t do this regularly.”
“He wasn’t a junkie,” Cissy Bruce said, crying.
Karen Dunham, the mother of Cory Bruce, becomes emotionalBuy Photo
Karen Dunham, the mother of Cory Bruce, becomes emotional as she talks about Bruce, who died on Nov. 25 after five days in the ICU at Mercy from what appears to be an overdose of fentanyl. (Photo: Nathan Papes/News-Leader)
Cory Bruce’s mother, Karen, was there the night he overdosed and called 911.
“It’s just the worst thing in the world for a mother to find that,” Dunham said. “I just do not wish that for anybody.”
His family described the 28-year-old as a loving father, a workaholic, and a compassionate, generous man.
He had been working double shifts in order to give his kids, ages 5 and 2, a good Christmas, his wife said.
“He was so big and clumsy,” Enyouf said, laughing. “He was like a bull in a china shop.”
Her description made everyone laugh.
Cissy Bruce (left) and Quincy Bruce talk about their brother Cory Bruce who died on Nov. 25 after five days in the ICU at Mercy from what appears to be an overdosed on fentanyl.Buy Photo
Cissy Bruce (left) and Quincy Bruce talk about their brother Cory Bruce who died on Nov. 25 after five days in the ICU at Mercy from what appears to be an overdosed on fentanyl. (Photo: Nathan Papes/News-Leader)
“He would trip over air,” Cissy Bruce added. “He is the only person I’ve ever seen slip on a banana peel.”
Quincy Bruce wiped her eyes.
“He had so much love and life in him,” Quincy said. “It makes me extremely angry because he was stolen. That is the only word I can think of. He was stolen from us. It was all over $20.”
Drug overdoses from synthetic opioids like fentanyl skyrocketed in 2016. Video provided by Newsy Newslook
‘Dead people never find recovery’
David Stoecker is a recovering addict and the director of the nonprofit Better Life in Recovery.
Stoecker often talks to drug users about what he calls “harm reduction tools.”
“There are a couple of tips I give to people because I want them to eventually find recovery,” he said. “What I’ve found is dead people never find recovery.”
Stoecker said addicts need to be taught about overdose risks, rescue breathing and how to obtain and use Narcan, the opioid overdose antidote. Their friends and family also need this information, he said.
Addicts need to be warned to not use alone and never use behind a locked door, he said.
David Stoecker often talks to drug users about whatBuy Photo
David Stoecker often talks to drug users about what he calls “harm reduction tools.” (Photo: News-Leader file photo)
“You can’t call 911 on yourself. You can’t administer Narcan on yourself,” he said in an earlier interview. “If you are going to use with someone, stagger your use. That way, if it’s been cut with something, they can call 911 for their friend instead of both of them dying together.”
And if a user gets a “new batch of heroin,” Stoecker suggested going easy at first.
“You can always go back and do more,” he said. “You can’t go back and do less.”
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