Deadly Drug Delivery Service: New Yorkers Die From Cocaine Cut With Fentanyl

In March of 2021, three New York professionals died of a Fentanyl overdose. Three different lives, three separate locations, all unbeknownst to each other; the three victims had received Cocaine laced with Fentanyl from the same text-order drug delivery service.

On a Wednesday in late winter, 26-year-old Julia Ghahramani, 40-year-old Ross Mtangi, and 38-year-old Amanda Scher texted their dealer, Billy Ortega, asking for Cocaine. The 35-year-old stay at home dad operated a delivery service and upon receiving the orders, sent out courier Kaylen Rainey to distribute the drugs.

Dealer Sends Assuaging Texts, Pleads Not Guilty

Communicating via text with the customers, incriminating messages reveal that Ortega knew the batch he was selling was deadly, or at least highly dangerous. Records show a text thread between Ortega (sometimes using the moniker “Jason Melissa”) and Scher the day she bought the drugs:

“Hey try not to do too much because it’s really strong”

“Hey boss lady you heard”


These messages came after Scher had told him that this batch was “Def better” than her previous order earlier in the week. By the time she was found dead on her couch by her dog walker the next day, Scher had several missed Facetime calls from Ortega as well as a text sent that morning to “give [him] a call back” to “ask [her] something real fast.”

The timestamps are fuzzy regarding the correspondences between Ortega and his three customers, but prosecutors allege that roughly six hours after Rainey had delivered the drugs to Ghahramani, Ortega tried to reach her, too. Like Scher, Ghahramani and Mtangi were both found already dead the next morning.

Both Ortega and Rainey are pleading not guilty to causing the three deaths.

Cocaine Prevalence Among New York Elites, Now Cut With Fentanyl

Thanks to its Stimulant nature and euphoric effects, Cocaine gained popularity as a party drug in New York in the 1980s. With a bustling night life full of busy-bodied professionals and a nonstop mentality, it’s not necessarily surprising that this powdered substance is so widely used. According to the Wall Street Journal, the rate of Cocaine usage in New York is higher than the national average of 2%.

What’s worse and considerably more concerning is the increasing prevalence of illicit Fentanyl found in a variety of street drugs, particularly those like Heroin, Cocaine, and sometimes even counterfeit Adderall. Fentanyl, when pharmaceutically rendered and medically prescribed, can alleviate intense pain following surgical procedures and even provide relief for cancer patients. When bought in the drug market illicitly, though, the drug is highly dangerous and incredibly lethal. A synthetic Opioid, Fentanyl is 50-100 times stronger than Morphine and deadly in a dose of around 2 milligrams, roughly the same amount as several grains of sand.

Recent data from the New York Department of Health shows that nearly half of all overdose deaths involve Fentanyl, often the victims none the wiser that their drug contained any traces of the deadly substance. Sassan Ghahramani, 26-year-old Julia’s father said of his daughter’s devastating overdose, “Julia was a driven professional with everything to live for. Never in a billion years would she have touched anything with Fentanyl. This is like putting bullets in people’s brains.”

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Fentanyl Overdose Fatalities Steadily Climbing

Because the illicit, street-derived Fentanyl is relatively low cost and easy for cartels and dealers to procure, it is being cut into more and more substances either accidentally, as an experiment, or a way to lower the cost of more expensive drugs like Cocaine and Heroin.

In New York alone, of the 980 Cocaine-related deaths in 2020, 81% involved Fentanyl. Drug usage and overall fatalities have increased over the last few years of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shutdowns and isolation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 107,622 reported fatal overdoses throughout the United States in 2021, an increase of 15% from the 93,655 deaths the previous year. While still stifling, this 15% increase is only half of what it was from 2019 to 2020’s 30% rise. Of those 107,622 deaths, 71,238 of them involved the presence of a synthetic Opioid—largely, Fentanyl.

Accidental Overdose Can Happen To Anyone

Ross Mtangi was a Wall Street executive who regularly ran five miles through Manhattan, Harvard-educated, and an expecting father. Julia Ghahramani virtually graduated from Columbia Law School in 2020 and was working as a first-year lawyer, days away from a family holiday trip. Amanda Scher was a dedicated social servant, splitting her time between hospital work and virtual counseling, and a doting mother to an elderly rescue dog.

These unsuspecting, recreational users became victims in a matter of moments; their bright futures permanently snuffed. None of them fit the bill of “addict,” their story added to the list of dozens like it, another heartbreaking glimpse into the danger and devastation of the drug trade.

Get Help For Fentanyl And Illicit Drug Use

If you or someone you love is struggling with illicit drug use, there are resources available. Reach out and contact a treatment provider today to learn more and discuss treatment and recovery options. Don’t wait until it’s too late; life is too precious and moves too fast.

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Hannah Zwemer

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  • Hannah Zwemer graduated with a BA in dance and a minor in educational studies from Denison University in 2017 before moving to Orlando to work as a performer at Walt Disney World. While at Disney, she discovered her passion for writing and pursued a master’s degree in creative writing with an emphasis in nonfiction. She is passionate about helping people in any way she can while simultaneously sharing stories that remind us that the best of us are still only human.

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