Man sentenced in federal court in overdose case

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Mar. 2, 2007 - A Hopkins County man was sentenced in federal court Thursday to serve 112 months in a federal prison for selling methadone in 2005 to a man who was left permanently "immobilized" as a result of consuming the drug.

Hopkins County-Sulphur Springs Special Crimes Unit Lt. Ron Plaxco was alerted Thursday by a Drug Enforcement Agent that Robert James Delima, 22, had been convicted of selling his prescription methadone to Henry Eric Preuss, now 20, for $35 in eastern Hopkins County in December of 2005.

Delima pleaded guilty in federal court on Oct. 25, 2006, and has been in custody since. He will be given credit for time served, but as is the case with federal punishment, will be required to serve the whole sentence without the option of early parole or credit for good behavior, Plaxco said.

Judge Michael H. Schneider on Thursday issued the sentence. After Delima completes the federal sentence, he will be required to pay a fine and serve 36 months on federal probation.

"This is a serious matter of prescription medication issued by a doctor and sold to someone else," Plaxco said. "Methadone makes the users feel very happy, relaxed. To keep feeling that way, you have to take more and more, which endangers the safety of the body."

Plaxco said he and fellow SCU Sgts. Harold McClure and Tony Crouse are taking "a very special look" at all instances of drug overdoses and selling of prescription drugs.

The SCU officer explained that, unlike methamphetamine and other drugs which are manufactured in clandestine drug labs, people often overlook the potential of overdosing on methadone because it is a prescribed medication. But the body is only capable of taking "so much in" before it shuts down.

"It's very scary stuff. Our community — actually, all communities — are facing it. It's right up there with meth use," Plaxco said.

Officials first began investigating Delima after being alerted that a young man had been admitted to the hospital after overdosing on methadone at a party in eastern Hopkins County in December 2005. Hopkins County Sheriff's Investigator Lewis Tatum was told the man, Preuss, initially was taken for treatment after reporting "having a hard time breathing." Others at the party cooperated with Tatum, reporting that Preuss "had been having problems breathing" and what kind of medication he had taken, Tatum said.

The investigator received information that Preuss purchased the methadone from Delima "on the way to the party." Delima was contacted and taken to the sheriff's office for an interview. Sheriff's officers determined Delima sold the methadone tabs to Preuss. SCU joined the investigation due to the nature of the substance.

When it became apparent Preuss had suffered permanent injuries as a result of taking the methadone — he was left "permanently impaired" — the investigators consulted with the district attorney's office. Texas law has no provision for injury from overdose, but federal law includes a statute for serious bodily injury or death resulting from the sale of a drug. The Drug Enforcement Agency became involved in the case which was filed federally.

"His [Preuss] condition — he's in a very sad situation," Plaxco said. "He's immobile. I haven't visited with Mr. Preuss but I have visited with his grandmother on several occasions. It's a very sad situation the Preuss family and Delima family have to deal with. Because a $35 prescription was sold, one person was permanently injured and the judge just put the dealer in prison for more than 9  years."

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