Update (2:46 p.m. on Nov. 30)
After pleading guilty, Garrett Hacker was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Hacker pleaded guilty to one count of dealing in a controlled substance resulting in a person’s death, a Level 1 felony.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Drew Estep grew up in the opioid addiction hotbed of West Virginia and came to Bloomington, Indiana, to get clean in 2020.
“After he had left the sober house, it didn’t last long before he was not ready to be on his own,” said Diana Estep, Drew’s mother. “Not long after he left the sober house, quite honestly, he picked up again. I can’t answer why. I just think he wasn’t quite ready to be out.”
It was three years ago this weekend when investigators proved Estep hooked up with Garrett Hacker, who delivered the 24-year-old recovering addict a fatal dose of fentanyl.
”He had actually passed on the seventh of October,” said Diana Estep, “and the wellness check was on the 11th, so he had been alone from the seventh to the 11th.”
Bloomington Police worked the case and suspected Hacker had supplied Estep with the fentanyl At the time, police lacked the resources to charge the dealer, leading his mother seek the help of federal agents.
”So, I got ahold of Mike Gannon and said, ‘Here’s the situation. I think there is enough. Can you look into this?’”
Gannon is the Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Indianapolis Office for the Southern District of Indiana.
”We were able to put a very complex investigation together to show that Garrett Hacker was responsible for that lethal dose of fentanyl,” Gannon said. “Mr. Estep thought he was taking heroin and obviously passed away with the result of a poisoning overdose.”
What followed was an investigation digging deep into cell phone records and expanding the groundwork laid by BPD.
”We try to extract the cell phone of the deceased individual that died of a fentanyl poisoning, and that revealed a treasure trove of evidence for us,” Gannon said. ”We were able to show that he and Mr. Hacker did in fact meet up, they did come to Mr. Estep’s apartment and, as a result through some really good investigative work, we were able to show that cash money was taken from a bank and there was a set up for a drug transaction. And after Mr. Hacker left, no one ever entered Mr. Estep’s apartment, and Mr. Estep never left the apartment.”
The DEA investigation paved the way for the Monroe County Prosecutors Office to file a charge of Dealing in a Controlled Substance Resulting in Death that led to a guilty plea by Hacker in late September.
Hacker is already serving a prison term for drug dealing. He faces another 20 years in prison when sentenced on Nov. 30 for Estep’s death.
”We can have a movement to start sending messages to dealers that this can happen,” Diana Estep said. “We’re training to make it happen, and maybe they will think twice. My son can’t come back. There’s nothing that’s going to ever, ever take that away the pain. I just want to feel that his death maybe can help somebody from ever having to go through this again.”
Gannon said federal agents, local investigators and prosecutors are pursuing more cases against dealers who supply drugs to users.
”Just in Marion County alone, the 2022 statistics, it’s important to know that 852 people died of a drug overdose, and of that number, 648 of them were fentanyl opioid related,” Gannon said. ”We’ve been fortunate over the last couple years to do about 25 of these cases, some have been charged in the Southern District of Indiana. We’ve done some in the Western District of Kentucky, and of course, with our state and local prosecutors to include Marion County and Monroe County and Hamilton County.”
During a recent DEA summit in Chicago, families who have lost loved ones to fentanyl said they refer to those deaths as “poisonings,” not “overdoses.”
”When fentanyl is involved, there is no control, there’s no recovery, there’s no next time,” Diane Estep said. “They’re poisoned. They didn’t set out to consume a substance that was end recovery, was gonna end to live a life. That isn’t what they intended.”