Pubdate: Sun, 03 Sep 2006
Source: Cincinnati Post (OH)
Copyright: 2006 The Cincinnati Post
Author: Shelly Whitehead
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Officials Fear Spread Of Lethal New Mix

Heroin is becoming a much deadlier problem in Greater Cincinnati, 
with overdoses skyrocketing and a more lethal combination drug making 
the rounds, officials say.

The problem is hitting communities across the region:In Covington, 
paramedics say their number of heroin overdose calls in the past six 
months have climbed from about two a month to nine per week.

In Independence, six people overdosed on the street drug on one 
August day alone.The Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force has seized 
more of the opiate this year than in the last five years combined.

Cincinnati Police also are seizing more heroin this year and calls to 
drug information officials in Cincinnati are surging.

More troubling is that police and health professionals fear a trend 
sweeping larger Midwestern cities this spring may have moved here: 
drug dealers' selling addicts heroin laced with the powerful 
painkiller fentanyl. Addicts are told the combination will mean a new 
and better high, but the mix can easily be much deadlier than heroin 
alone because fentanyl is 50 to 80 times stronger than morphine.

"We do have subjective information from addicts that they have been 
seeking out more potent heroin in the area," said Cincinnati Drug and 
Poison Information Center Toxicologist Jan Scaglione. "This is 
probably one of the things we're tracking closest, though, because of 
the risk associated with its use.

"Unfortunately, with the mindset of somebody who is an addict, it 
also often becomes more attractive as a bigger, better high.... That 
worries me.

"The surge in heroin overdoses has been particularly dramatic in 
Northern Kentucky.

Florence Fire Chief Marc Muench counts at least a half-dozen heroin 
overdoses in the last two months - more than his department usually 
sees in a year. And in Independence, six people were taken to 
hospitals with heroin overdoses on Aug. 20 alone, though 
investigators are unsure if there is any connection among the cases.

In Northern Kentucky's largest city, Covington Emergency Medical 
Services Director Carl Chalk said the problem has been particularly 
extreme. "We used to see heroin overdoses of about one or two a 
month, but in the last six months we're seeing six to nine a week."

Chalk said that, based on the amount of the overdose antidote, 
Narcan, that many victims are requiring, he suspects many ingested a 
fentanyl-laced drug.

"Normally, if we have a person with a narcotic overdose, we give them 
two milligrams of Narcan," he said. "But, with heroin overdoses with 
fentanyl, we've given them up to eight milligrams of Narcan," said Chalk.

He's now ordering 12 times the amount of the costly drug that he 
ordered last year.

Though fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is many times stronger than 
heroin, health professionals say it kills in much the same way, by 
stopping breathing, leading to cardiac arrest.

Scaglione said there is no reporting procedure in place to quantify 
heroin, or heroin/fentanyl overdoses locally. Last May, though, the 
Ohio Early Warning Network posted alerts about fentanyl-laced heroin 
overdoses plaguing Chicago and Detroit. Since then, Scaglione said 
undercover drug agents have purchased samples of such drugs around 
Dayton and Columbus.

A Newport woman who recently lost her husband to an overdose believes 
fentanyl-laced heroin has arrived on local streets. The woman asked 
not to be identified to protect her children from embarrassment.

She said she knew her husband was addicted to heroin, but she 
believes a new dealer sold him fentanyl-laced heroin two weeks ago, 
which she thinks killed him.

"I think he got something bad ... from the new dealer," she said."He 
had two years of doing heroin, and he wasn't doing an excessive 
amount or anything different than what he was normally doing. That's 
what makes me think it had to be something bad in it."

Final laboratory test results on the Newport man's blood are months 
away, so it's unclear whether the heroin suspected in his death was 
mixed with fentanyl. With or without fentanyl, though, authorities 
say it is clear more heroin is on the streets throughout the region.

"We have seized ! more her oin this year than we have in the last 
five years total. In the last several cases we've worked, combined, 
we've gotten almost 250 grams of heroin." said Northern Kentucky Drug 
Strike Force Director Jim Liles.

"We're definitely seeing an upswing," said Cincinnati Vice Squad 
Commander Howard Rahtz. "We are seizing more of the drug than we did in 2005.

"Though fentanyl's existence in heroin makes the drug more lethal, 
everyone agrees heroin alone is still quite capable of killing its 
users, who are among the most desperate drug addicts when it comes to 
seeking an increasingly elusive high. It's that desperation that 
authorities believe prompted clandestine labs to begin producing 
fentanyl to satisfy heroin addicts' cravings.

Newport Paramedic Randy Childress said his department's increased 
heroin overdose calls this summer strongly suggest that 
fentanyl-laced heroin has hit the streets here and that addicts are 
flocking to it. He relayed a recent incident to illustrate the 
addict's draw to such deadly combination drugs.

"We took in two people to the hospital who had overdosed together, 
and a nurse overheard them afterward calling from a public phone, 
thanking their drug dealer for such a potent drug," Childress said. 
"That's scary. They don't realize how close they were to dying."

Most local coroners reported increased heroin overdose deaths this 
year. Because lab results take months to complete, however, coroners 
could not definitively say how many overdose deaths recently are due 
to heroin, or how many might have also involved fentanyl.

What remains impossible to quantify is the ripple effects such 
overdoses have on the addict's family. The Newport woman who lost her 
husband this August said she watched addiction eat away at the man 
she loved until there was nothing left but a devastated family and a 
dead father and husband.

She wonders what she could have done different to save him. She 
questions whether she should have had him arrested. She searches for 
the answers to her children's questions now that their father is gone.

"Our kids want to know why," she said. " 'Why is my dad dead? Why did 
it happen to my dad? Why were they allowed to sell it to him? Why 
aren't they in jail?' Those are questions I just can't answer."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman