Fentanyl is a narcotic painkiller used for producing anesthesia during surgery and as pain treatment throughout the surgical process and recovery. It is also used to subside intense pain in cancer patients. The misuse of this super potent medication can lead to addiction, overdose and death. How does this doctor-administered drug end up in the blood stream of the average heroin drug user? No one knows for sure, but fentanyl-laced heroin is snowballing through the streets of the mid-Atlantic region, causing a magnitude of overdoses and deaths. At least twenty-two befell in Western Pennsylvania in the past two weeks alone.
With the recent death of Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, the heroin epidemic is once again front-and-center. Although this time, the spotlight is on a more deadly strand of the already dangerous fix. Authorities are finding bags of heroin made of up to 50% fentanyl.
Hoffman, known for his chameleon-like ability to transform in and out of countless memorable characters, was found dead in his Greenwich Village apartment in New York, with a needle in his arm and five empty bags of heroin. More disturbingly, investigators found 50 additional unopened bags of the crystalline powder. Initially, some believed the fentanyl-laced mixture was to blame for the untimely death. The actual cause is still unknown.
The heroin epidemic should not come as a surprise. Earlier this year, the New England area experienced a spike in heroin overdoses and deaths. Escalating hand-in-hand with an increase in prescription pill abuse, many high-seekers are continuing to turn to heroin once prescribed opiates are no longer available.
The cost of prescribed opiates is often too high for the everyday drug user, with the street value of 80mg of OxyContin averaging $40. These sky-high prices and the fact that doctors are on a short leash when prescribing them has proven to be a deadly concoction. “It’s hard seeing a loved one go through this transition because there is nothing you can do to help an addict of this caliber. They can only help themselves,” explains Tom Mininno, of Philadelphia. Once the transition to heroin is made, the high is so intense, nothing else compares.
The only safer aspect of prescribed pills is the consistency. A prescription drug abuser knows what he or she is getting in to, as these pills are identically formulated and manufactured. When addicts reach for a bag of smack, however, they’re basically playing with fire. As of late, some unlucky users are getting their itchy hands on the newfound, fentanyl-laced heroin.
Yet, for hardcore users, this deadly mixture is exactly what they’re feigning. According to a user featured on the New York Times video, “Deadly Dance”, knowledge that a certain mix is causing an overhaul of overdoses and deaths attracts positive attention. These addicts see the drugs as being that good.
In the span of two days, Allegheny County, PA Medical Examiner Karl Williams witnessed seven overdose deaths. According to Williams, four of these deaths were distinctive in the fact that they were “…obvious narcotic overdoses. They all came in with injection sites. They all came in with stamp bags and paraphernalia,” he said.
The obvious heroin epidemic is causing authorities to step to the plate. Following the death of the beloved Hoffman, they've focused their goals on cracking down on these lethal drug dealers and charging them for the deaths they cause. The NYPD has already arrested four suspected dealers in connection with Hoffman’s death. Dealers selling the fentanyl-laced heroin floating around Southwestern Pennsylvania are labeling the bags as “Theraflu” and “Bud Ice”.