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Fentanyl linked deaths increase in Philadelphia area

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Philadelphia officials have issued a warning that dangerous heroin laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl is circulating in Philadelphia. The combining of the two drugs has killed at least 28 people between March 3 and April 20, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability disclosed. The department is awaiting test results on seven more people.

Fentanyl is often utilized during surgery, and is delivered in the first place through a patch worn on the body. Illicit fentanyl is added to heroin to create a stronger high. Fentanyl can be a white powder like heroin, but is 50 times stronger. The drug can interfere with respiration.

Earlier this year, law enforcement officials said heroin laced with fentanyl was suspected in at least 50 fatal overdoses in three states. In Pennsylvania, the drug combination was suspected in at least 17 deaths. Officials in Maryland and Michigan were also investigating deaths related to the drug mix. In Flint, Michigan, fentanyl-laced heroin was suspected in four overdoses.

"The powerful narcotic, which is intended to treat extreme pain, was implicated in 269 deaths in 2006 in Philadelphia. It killed more than 2,000 people across the country that year," reports The Inquirer. The deaths ranged from 16 to 66 years old across Northeast Philadelphia in addition to South and Southwest Philadelphia. www.philly.com

Accroding to the Partnership at Drug Free.org, “Last year, the city had 24 deaths due to illicit fentanyl use. The drug was implicated in 269 deaths in 2006 in the city. It killed more than 2,000 people across the country that year. Roland Lamb, director of the city Office of Addiction Services, said he found the new spike in deaths "very concerning," and wants to avoid a repeat of the 2006 epidemic. www.philly.com

"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. Even in small amounts, fentanyl can be lethal. "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 January of this year, the Drug Enforcement Agency warned local authorities about what they called “killer heroin,” a blend that featured a straight 50-50 mix of heroin and fentanyl. The statement also urged first responders to “exercise extreme caution,” since fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin. Meanwhile, dealers have marked their fentanyl-laced dope with catchy names like “Bud light,” “Theraflu,” and “Income Tax.” Joseph Coronato, a prosecutor in Ocean County, N.J. said, "A lot of those people thought that Bud Light was really hot, it's really good stuff, it sends you over the edge. It's a marketing tool, almost."

Officials don’t know whether people who purchased the fentanyl-laced heroin knew what they were getting. They also don’t know who is making or selling the product, or what it is being called.

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