DEA officials are on high alert following the discovery that heroin laced with a lab-brewed painkiller is crossing the U.S border and hitting the streets.
The lab-brewed painkiller in focus here is a type of Fentanyl - a powerful prescription drug that's frequently mixed with heroin. DEA officials say they've never seen this form of it before and it's proving to make the heroin even more deadly.
Jeff Orr, captain of the Trumbull Ashtabula Group (TAG) drug task force says that the Fentanyl they are seeing is not pharmacy-based at all. It's like an analog drug whose chemistry is completely different from what the pharmaceutical is. In some cases, it's even more potent.
Officers from the task force with the support of other agencies in the region have confiscated heroin that looks different. According to Orr, 'straight' heroin is usually light brown but that's not the case with spiked heroin. Field tests on it are often inconclusive. In such cases samples are sent to DEA labs for further analysis.
Mr. Orr further states that they've had Fentanyl being confiscated from the border of Mexico. He's aware that almost every state in the country has had some amount of it. Sometimes the Fentanyl is in it's pure form and on some occasions mixed with heroin. The Mexican drug cartel, Sinaloa (believed to be embedded in Ohio) is notorious for bringing in heroin and Fentanyl. However, authorities have noted an infiltration of the same is now coming from China. It seems that this new Fentanyl is being made by some large, illicit organization.
Cause For Alarm
The number of deaths as a result of drug overdose in Trumbull County doubled in 2015 compared to the previous year while that of Ashtabula County remained the same for 2014 and 2015. However, in the later case, the coroner's report indicates that there was a 'big increase' in drug overdose cases as from the end of 2015 onward. In fact the Coroner's office has had 2 opiate overdose cases in 2016, with 3 more pending. Last year there were 21 drug-related deaths, 11 of which were opiate-related. The other 10 were caused by multiple drugs which may include Fentanyl.
When the potency of heroin spikes, it may cause a sudden rash of overdoses. If an addict's body is used to a certain tolerance level then their dealer sells them heroin that's a little bit strong. The person uses the same dose but the reaction is stronger. Their life could be on the line here. According to Pamela Lancaster (county coroner), the person using the drug can suddenly develop respiratory distress or a cardiac arrhythmia because their liver doesn't know how to handle the drug. She's seen it all; a patient coming out of rehab buys heroin from the street and they end up dead.
In 2013, the state had 2100 reported cases of drug-overdose deaths. The following year, the number jumped to 2500. As is evident, the whole county is grappling with a drug epidemic. Lancaster is keen to point out that America uses about 90% of the world's narcotics and 75% of all prescription drugs. Lancaster believes that the illicit narcotics and legal drugs are all connected and form part of a 'pervasive' subculture. In her view, we should encourage people to eat right and exercise so as to avoid medical complications that may require prescription.