CRIME
02/03/2014 11:17 am ET | Updated Feb 03, 2014

Fentanyl-Laced Heroin Linked To Dozens Of Deaths In Northeast

A Pennsylvania medical examiner reports more than a dozen people have died in recent weeks from overdosing on laced heroin thought to be sweeping the region.

Allegheny County medical examiner Dr. Karl Williams said Thursday that laboratory tests confirmed that the ultra-potent painkiller fentanyl was present in heroin samples seized in connection with at least 14 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania, according to the Pittsburgh Gazette.

Fentanyl, which is typically prescribed to cancer patients as a last resort, can be 10 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to CNN. The laced heroin has been sold under street names like "Bud Ice" and "Theraflu."

Williams anticipates further tests will link the laced heroin to other overdose deaths in the state. In six western Pennsylvania counties, 22 people died from heroin overdoses in the past two weeks.

"It is a marked increase... at least three or four times what we would expect," Williams told CNN.

Last week, police in western Pennsylvania charged six people with possessing heroin thought to be connected to the deadly overdoses. One suspect was arrested with 36 individually wrapped packages of heroin labeled "Theraflu" concealed in his underwear.

Pennsylvania State Police believe the laced heroin may be coming to the state through northern New Jersey, according to the Pittsburgh Gazette.

The presence of fentanyl or a fentanyl-like synthetic drug was also confirmed in 13 heroin-related deaths in Rhode Island in January, the Providence Journal reported last month.

“The word on the street is that there’s bad heroin out there,” Richard Holcomb, director of Project Weber, a Providence-based non-profit that works with intravenous drug users, told the newspaper. “People believe that they’re shooting heroin but the substance does not look like heroin and they’re shooting it and they’re dying.”

Medical examiners in Maryland said fentanyl-laced heroin may be linked to at least 37 deaths in that state since September.

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