Sunday, July 22, 2001

Dad takes on Oxy sellers

Son's death fuels mission

By Amanda Riddle
The Associated Press

        PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — It was a few days into the new year when 19-year-old Stevie Steiner moved to Florida to work as an electrician during the slow winter months in New York.

        He called home regularly, talking to his father about his job at a Boca Raton lighting company and his plans to pay off his car loan.

        Then after a night of partying over Super Bowl weekend, the son who was going to one day take over the family business was found dead of an OxyContin overdose at the home he shared with his half brother in this West Palm Beach suburb.

        Six months later, Steven Steiner Sr. is outraged that no one has been arrested in his son's death. He's spinning his anger into something positive, a group called DAMMADD — Dads and Mad Moms Against Drug Dealers — which accepts anonymous tips over the Internet to help law enforcement get drug dealers off the streets.

        “I have to wake up every morning and see his picture in the living room and his urn, and it makes me damn mad,” said Mr. Steiner, 41, of Tioga Center, N.Y. “That's what gives me the energy. I'm going to make a difference, there's no doubt.”

        On Saturday, Jan. 27, his son and others at a party took Ecstasy and snorted OxyContin, known by its generic name oxycodone. Stev ie Steiner was last seen alive Sunday, asleep on his living room couch. Half brother Matthew Brandisi found him dead the next morning.

        Witnesses told police Stevie Steiner had taken two OxyContin tablets that night and the medical examiner found evidence of the drug in his blood.

        Police could never confirm the elder Steiner's theories about how his son obtained the drugs. The sheriff's office recently turned its investigation over to the state attorney's office, which agreed that there was no probable cause to arrest anyone, said Detective Richard Carl.

        “The parents can push all they want, it doesn't change facts,” Detective Carl said. “We take facts to the prosecutor, not theories.”

        Deaths from OxyContin have increased in Florida and across the nation.

        Local authorities are working to educate the public about the drug's dangers if misused. In May, the state attorney's office charged a doctor with Medicaid fraud for improperly prescribing the drug to four patients who later died of overdoses.

        But Mr. Steiner doesn't think they're doing enough.

        “They have just accepted kids dying in West Palm Beach,” he said.

        The father said he does not blame Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, which gave DAMMAD a $50,000 grant. The organization has raised an additional $5,000 through raffles, car washes and donations.

        On the DAMMADD Web site, which was launched in May, people can leave anonymous tips about cocaine kingpins, Ecstasy manufacturers, prescription drug pushers and other dealers. The organization will pay from $100 to $1,500 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

        About 30 tips have resulted in two arrests in southern New York's Broome County near where Mr. Steiner lives. While most tips are from his home state, Mr. Steiner hopes to expand the site nationwide later this year. He also is trying to raise several million dollars for operational costs and to pay rewards.

        Broome County Sheriff's Office Detective Vasili Yacalis said the information the agency has received from Mr. Steiner's organization has been credible. More arrests are coming based on those tips.

        “I can see if the tips continue, a lot of people are going to find themselves in jail,” Mr. Yacalis said.

        In addition to the tips form, the Web site features Stevie Steiner's junior yearbook picture, his last year of school before he dropped out to work full time as an electrician.

        Below the photo are Mr. Steiner's Top 10 memories of his son and a link to graphic crime-scene photos of his bloated body, with the words “This is what the drug dealers are really selling you.”

        Mr. Steiner said he included the pictures to illustrate the uglier, deadly effects of drug abuse. He also plans to discuss his son's death when he visits schools to encourage students to stay off drugs.

        “If we just say, "Listen we're not going to be scared of the drug dealers anymore,' we can win” the war against drugs, he said.


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