Sign In | Sign Up
POINT PLEASANT, N.J. (AP) - On an icy night last month, a man entered a grocery store here, walked past the displays of cake mix and paper towels and into the bathroom, where he injected himself with heroin.
Hours later, the man was found dead in the bathroom with a needle still in his arm, authorities said. They believe the man was one of more than 80 across the country who have died in recent weeks after injecting heroin laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate.
As the number of people who use, and fatally overdose on, heroin has skyrocketed in recent years, authorities are seeing the return of an alarming development: heroin that, often unbeknownst to the user, is spiked with fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a narcotic that is typically administered to people in chronic pain, including end-stage cancer patients. It is also used as an anesthetic. It is considered 80 times more powerful than morphine and can kill by inhibiting breathing.
"The dealers push this as being a super high, which it is, but it's also lethal," said Ellen Unterwald, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the Temple University School of Medicine. Users typically don't know how much fentanyl is mixed in, and she said just a small amount can be fatal because the drug is so potent.
"A very small amount can exert a very significant effect," said Eric Strain, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Research at Johns Hopkins University.
In Maryland, at least 37 people have died from the combined drugs, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and in Western Pennsylvania, authorities said they caused 22 deaths in recent weeks. In Rhode Island, 25 people have died from the laced heroin, and in Vermont state police have warned that pure fentanyl is being sold as heroin.
After Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead with a syringe in his arm this month, investigators in New York tested the heroin found in his apartment for fentanyl, but found that it did not include the additive.
With more and more addicts turning to heroin because crackdowns on powerful prescription opiate painkillers have made them more expensive and inaccessible, there is concern that more people may be exposed to fentanyl-laced heroin during this wave than in previous ones, including in 2006 when hundreds of people from Chicago to Philadelphia died after injecting the drugs.
Last month the Drug Enforcement Administration put out a bulletin warning local authorities of what it dubbed "killer heroin," a mixture that was up to half Fentanyl. It urged first responders to "exercise extreme caution" when coming into contact with any heroin because Fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin. It is unclear where the Fentanyl is coming from. It is typically only distributed in hospitals. It can be administered in the form of a patch, a drip or a lollipop, which patients in pain suck on.
Heroin dealers put so-called stamps on the bags that hold their product, allowing users to delineate between different batches. Oftentimes they are product logos. Authorities said bags bearing the stamps "Bud Light," ''Theraflu" and "Income Tax" have tested positive for fentanyl.
"A lot of those people thought that Bud Light was really hot, it's really good stuff, it sends you over the edge," said Ocean County, N.J. Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. "It's a marketing tool, almost."
Ocean County has been besieged by heroin and prescription drug overdoses in the past two years; in 2012 there were 53 overdoses in the county that hugs the Jersey Shore and last year there were 112.
"The demand is so high. That's the problem that's out there," Coronato said.
T.J. Smith, a spokesman for the police in Anne Arundel County, Md., said there have been four cases within the last year of heroin found with fentanyl in it, which he called an "unusually high number" in the county. Smith said heroin - both pure and laced with fentanyl - is driving a major increase in property crime. He said the drug has undergone a major change in the past year, with more potentially fatal doses found with fentanyl.
"It's a different heroin now," Smith said. "You can't use that same amount of heroin that you used a year ago because now it has a fentanyl kick in it."
Horse aint what it used to be. That is why there is so much homemade crap. There are are people who are in chronic pain and need Opiates ... Raising the price and making people fell like criminals is not justifiable. Spend one day with me and MS and a recalled hip replacement. You might change your mind. Physicians should be provided lie dector kits - I am honest and I am not lookingf for a "high" but I am paying the price for the abusers problems..... Also, we protect the Opium Fields. Why is it sacred ground? -- Also I agree with paulhloeb
What is the world coming to when you can't trust your heroin dealer?
And you people what about thier rights, Well what about our rights. The programs, the rehabs, jails and the police. Think about it, Less crime. How many of you know a family that was destroyed by drugs.Nothing ill work with stopping the flow of this ****, Its a billion dollar business for our goverment. Run by lawyers who make thier money of the backs of drug crime.
heroin is not something we are going to rehab away. our leaders know it, but are ashamed at there failed drug policies. this drug is way more lethal and addictive than crack ever was. there should be a war on drugs against this drug ,the dealers and the users. when will our leaders take race and finance out of the equation and create a real drug schedule and policy., smh
Life is hard, harder when your stupid - John Wayne.
As a mother of a daughter who used heroin in the past, and having watched some of her acquaintances overdose/die, or lives just ruined, it's unfortunate that this latest 'craze' (use of fentanyl) will have no bearing on your typical heroin addict's desire to stop using. Most addicts are left unfazed by another addict's passing, and because that desire to use supersedes ANYTHING else in life, expect that death rate to literally skyrocket. One can only hope and pray that this is a 'trend' which will end up passing, and none too soon.
well said. i hope your daughter is sober and you and she are happy.
Dope dealers are heartless scum that live off the misery of others.It warmed my heart when I was able to send each of them to prison while I was in charge of major narcotic prosecution.Addicts commit a shopping list of significant crimes daily to get their chemical body additive of choice.Name a crime, addicts are committing it.Without the illegal drug epidemic, the crime rate in the USA would plummet...
I Used to be on fentenyl patches due to chronic pain ill be in till i die, it was too strong for me, & its dangerous alone, people ive heard would chew on these things, CRAZY! I alwas follow dr orders & tk EXACTLY as directed, People like me need medication & it sickins me to hear of dealrs doing this.
Yes, people like you do need medication.
Sad that they are addicted in the first place, but even worse , that drug sellers are qing it up with so many killer ingredients
Opiate overdoses are at an epidemic level. It typically starts with prescription drugs such as oxycontin and oxycodone. As the drug company that produces these drugs steps up their efforts to lessen the numbers of people becoming addicted to these powerful drugs the addicts have turned to heroin which is also an opiate. This company has had to pay a huge fine for falsifying data regarding the highly addictive properties of these drugs that are hugely over prescribed to the public. Yes, young people are making a bad choice to take the oxy's but they are hooked quickly and are then stuck in that vicious cycle of being sick if they do not have it. If your child was one of the 45,000 or so that will die this year from drug overdoses you would not be so quick to judge. Opiates are killing our children and the stigma and shame that we are having to fight through are not helpful.