A new strain of heroin is on the rise in the Pennsylvania area, causing more than 22 deaths in January alone. Heroin laced with fentanyl is almost always fatal. Over the past year Maryland, New York, and Ohio have all seen surges in deaths related to the combination. Police have sent out warnings in efforts to ward off heroin users from taking the deadly drug while they work with the DEA to find the producers and drug dealers.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate similar to morphine. It is most commonly used to treat patients suffering from severe pain and to manage post-surgery pains. Fentanyl binds to the body’s opiate receptors, which are highly concentrated parts of the brain that control emotions and pain. Once there, the drug causes the brain to release high levels of dopamine in the “reward center,” which results in the user feeling euphoria. There is a high probability of overdose with these drugs, but the effects are not incurable. If an overdose is suspected, the person can receive an opiate antagonist, such a Naloxone, that block the effects of the opiate drugs. It has names such at Sublimaze, Actiq, and Duragesic when in prescription form. On the street it is called China white, dance fecer, friend, Tango, Cash, goodfella, and jackpot, among others.
When prescribed, opiates often come as an injection, in a lozenge, or a transdermal patch. The recent surge in overdoses involving fentanyl stemmed from clandestine laboratories substituting or mixing this in with heroin. The results are almost always fatal for users.
Law enforcement that have seized fentanyl-laced heroin report that they come in baggies marked “Theraflu” or “Bud Ice”. The drugs run deep in the commonwealth area; Pennsylvania police have even released reports of there being a connection between a municipal police department and the fatal heroin outbreak.
The Ongoing Heroin Epidemic
The heroin epidemic does not come as a shock. In the wake of a crackdown on the availability of prescription drugs, people unable to afford the prices of their medications turned to a new alternative for their pills. That alternative was heroin. As an opiate, it acts like a painkiller, is easy to find, and cheaper than any prescription in stores, especially for those without medical insurance. This new strain of heroin, though, is making the price much more than the drug is worth. The DEA sent out a bulletin for first responders in January about the dangers of the new heroin. They urged extreme caution to anyone who came into contact or suspected the heroin might be in the area as it can easily be absorbed in the skin.
Drug busts are happening all over the affected areas as law enforcement gathers more information about who is handling them, when, and where the drugs are. Two men were arrested with enough of the fatal heroin to package over 10,000 bags. Police also recovered a couple of weapons, and small amounts of cash and drugs suspected to be marijuana. Pennsylvania has the third-highest rate of heroin abuse in the United States, and according to reports it is continuing to rise. It is likely that the fatal heroin came from outside the area, but the problem is well within. As police obtain more and more information about the whereabouts of these drugs, the Drug Enforcement Agency stresses the dangers involved with using heroin, including the fatality rating of the mixed one. On average, it claimed one person per day in the Pennsylvania area at the beginning of the year. With any luck, users will see the potential for a deadly ending and stop using.
National Institute on Drug Abuse – http://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/fentanyl