A Keene man on Wednesday admitted to providing the drugs that caused a woman’s fatal overdose nearly two years ago.
Ryan Syrjamaki, 41, pleaded guilty in Cheshire County Superior Court to one count of dispensing fentanyl with death resulting. Under a plea agreement, he was sentenced to two to four years in N.H. State Prison.
The case stemmed from the February 2018 death of Abigail Fish of Keene. She was 29, according to a notice posted by the DiLuzio Foley and Fletcher Funeral Homes. Assistant Cheshire County Keith W. Clouatre said she left behind two young children.
The description of the case presented in court Wednesday underscored the risks of drug use at a time when fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and lethal than heroin, has taken over the illicit drug market. The state saw 471 drug-overdose deaths in 2018, 385 of which were linked to fentanyl, according to the N.H. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
Clouatre said Fish hosted a gathering at her home in Keene the night of Feb. 1, 2018. Syrjamaki was one of the people there. At some point, he decided he wanted to use cocaine, so he and another person went to a local bar, where that person went in and bought drugs, Clouatre said.
On returning to the party, Syrjamaki realized it was actually heroin or fentanyl, rather than cocaine. According to a filing from his attorney, Syrjamaki was on Suboxone, an addiction-treatment medication that blocks the euphoric effects of opioids. Not wanting to use the fentanyl himself, he made it available to others at the party, including Fish, Clouatre said.
The next morning, people woke up and saw Fish sitting at the kitchen counter with her head down, according to Cloautre. They thought she was asleep until her 4-year-old daughter tried to wake her and couldn’t.
An autopsy showed Fish died after overdosing on fentanyl, possibly in combination with prescription medication she was on.
Under New Hampshire law, providing drugs that kill another person can carry harsh penalties. The person who supplies the substance can be prosecuted for causing the death and, potentially, sentenced to up to life in prison.
In practice, the sentences vary substantially from case to case, in part because the “death resulting” law covers everyone from major traffickers to people who buy heroin to split with friends.
Though Syrjamaki cooperated with police, investigators were unable to track the drugs back to dealers, Clouatre said.
Syrjamaki spoke briefly in court, apologizing for his actions and the tragic loss he caused. “It eats away at me every day,” he said.
None of Fish’s family members attended the hearing.
Richard Guerriero, Syrjamaki’s attorney, said his client has a lengthy history of alcoholism and opioid misuse. He suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 2006 skateboarding accident, after which he received disability payments, though his substance-use issues predate that, according to Guerriero.
Judge David W. Ruoff noted that while there’s no evidence Syrjamaki dealt drugs or sought to profit, his actions were risky and caused great harm.
Fish’s “4-year-old girl and her sister don’t have a mom anymore,” the judge said. “And it’s no secret that fentanyl is a very, very potent, deadly drug.”
Referencing evidence submitted by Guerriero, he pointed out that Syrjamaki’s substance use persisted despite him getting treatment multiple times over more than a decade.
“At some point, you have to get on top of it,” Ruoff said. “Otherwise, you’re going to end up being the victim in one of these cases.”