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Painkiller laced heroin responsible for nearly two dozen Pennsylvania deaths

Sometimes when you play with fire, you get burned.
Sometimes when you play with fire, you get burned. Hendrike/ Wikimedia.org

A recent spike in drug overdoses in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas, has local authorities searching for the person responsible for distributing painkiller-laced heroin, News 4 Jax reported on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014.

According to local reports, 22 people have died after injecting what they believed to be heroin, but was actually a combination of heroin and fentanyl, an extremely powerful narcotic normally prescribed to cancer patients for pain. Fentanyl can be anywhere from 10 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and mixing it with heroin produces a lethal combination.

Authorities say that this isn’t the first time the powerful narcotic has showed up on the streets of Pennsylvania’s cities. In 1988 a chemist sold fentanyl packaged as heroin, which resulted in the death of 17 people. In 2006, nearly 300 people died of fentanyl overdoses in Philadelphia and again in 2013 the same drug was blamed for an additional 50 deaths.

And experts say that the deadly combination of drugs doesn’t happen by coincidence.

“This is not accidental. Somebody is deliberately trying to make a big batch of fentanyl,” said Dr. Karl Williams, the chief medical examiner in Allegheny County. “It is not an extraordinarily complex molecule to synthesize, and you can find instructions on the Internet. It does not take a sophisticated chemist to do this.”

In addition, fentanyl is only available in powder form, which is then boiled down and injected like heroin, when it’s being manufactured illegally.

Williams said that the deadly combination is being distributed as “Income Tax,” “Bud Ice” and “Theraflu.”

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