Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Federal official are blaming a deadly combination of heroin and the powerful narcotic fentanyl for over 80 deaths around the United States in recent weeks. Often used as an anesthetic, fentanyl is typically administered in hospitals to people in end-of-life care, such as terminal cancer patients.
Dr. Karl Williams, the chief medical examiner in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, told ABC News in January that recent trends represent a “major increase in drug overdoses,” and added that the appearance of a powdered form of the drug means that it “has to be made by somebody… somewhere in a clandestine laboratory.”
“This is not accidental,” he said “Somebody is deliberately trying to make a big batch of fentanyl. 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.”
Among the recent victims of the deadly cocktail are 22 Pennsylvania residents from six different counties. If fentanyl is mixed with cocaine or heroin, it amplifies their strength, and can result in respiratory, sedation and nausea problems, officials said. They added that the illicit combination of drugs are popping up in small bags marked with popular brands, such as Theraflu, Bud Ice and Income Tax.
“A lot of those people thought that Bud Light was really hot, it’s really good stuff, it sends you over the edge,” said Joseph Coronato, a prosecutor in Ocean County, N.J. told the Daily Mail. “It’s a marketing tool, almost.”
Ocean County is another part of the country that has been severely impacted by heroin and prescription drug overdoses over the last two years. In 2012, the coastal county saw 53 overdoses and in 2013 there were 112 reported.
“The demand is so high. That’s the problem that’s out there,” Coronato said.
“A very small amount can exert a very significant effect,” warned Dr. Eric Strain, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Research at Johns Hopkins University.
“The dealers push this as being a super high, which it is, but it’s also lethal,” added Ellen Unterwald, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Research at Temple University.
Last week, the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment published an analysis of data on mortality risks of users of cocaine and heroin. The study revealed that users of those drugs are at a 14-times higher risk of fatality, compared to the general population.
Among heroin users in the study, men were also 1.5 times more likely to die than women. Some of the specific risk factors in the study included mental disorders, personality traits, and social conditions surrounding drug dependence.
“This research clearly shows that drug use is unsafe and can lead to fatality. Addiction is often associated with underlying psychological disorders,” said Pax Prentiss, CEO of Passages Addiction Treatment Centers. “For individuals who have made the choice to end their dependence on substances, our treatment team has helped our clients to return to their daily lives, drug and alcohol free.”