Pubdate: Thu, 01 Jun 2006
Source: Detroit News (MI)
Copyright: 2006, The Detroit News
Author: Brad Heath and Joel Kurth, The Detroit News
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Chemical tests show pain drug suspected in overdose deaths wasn't 
made same way as prescription forms.

Doses of the painkiller fentanyl, thought to be the cause of dozens 
of drug overdose deaths in Metro Detroit in the past two weeks, 
appear to have been made illegally in underground laboratories, 
people familiar with an expanding police investigation said Wednesday.

The findings are based on chemical tests that indicate the fentanyl 
- -- a powerful pain medication -- was not made the same way as the 
prescription forms of the drug, said Calvin Trent, director of the 
Detroit Bureau of Substance Abuse. He and others said investigators 
laid out those findings at a meeting with health officials Wednesday 
morning, though they offered few details.

"They've confirmed it's being clandestinely manufactured, but not in 
the Detroit or Wayne County area," Trent said. "It appears that the 
fentanyl was not made here or mixed here, but it was brought here and 
sold here."

Authorities suspect the painkiller, mixed with either heroin or 
cocaine, is to blame for a spike in drug overdose deaths involving 50 
people in Wayne County during the past two weeks, including two on Wednesday.

They will not be able to definitively link the deaths to fentanyl 
until they complete toxicology tests, which can take several weeks. 
Since January 2005, the county has confirmed 130 fentanyl overdose deaths.

Other cases have been confirmed from Philadelphia to Chicago; a 
handful have been reported elsewhere in Michigan.

"There's still a lot of questions, but all evidence points to it 
being a mix that came onto the street from illegal networks," said 
Dr. Mark Greenwald, a Wayne State University psychiatry professor who 
is part of a task force of health officials and others assembled to 
respond to the overdoses.

Police seizures of the lethal cocktail in Detroit indicate it comes 
in varying strains, Greenwald said. Some drug mixes contained mostly 
fentanyl and some heroin; in others, the ratio was reversed.. Experts 
said prescription versions of fentanyl are chemically different from 
illegally produced versions and that tests can tell the two apart.

Carolyn Gibson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration, said investigators won't say conclusively the drugs 
were illegally manufactured until all their tests are complete.

"We'd be premature in saying it's 100 percent definite, but that's 
what it's looking like," she said. Police in Philadelphia, where 
fentanyl has been blamed for about 40 deaths over two months, said 
they also suspect the drug was made illegally and that it was mixed 
into packets of heroin before reaching the city. They think all 
originated from one shipment of tainted heroin that was distributed 
to cities in the Northeast and Midwest, Philadelphia Police Lt. Pat Quinn said.

Illegal fentanyl labs have been around for at least 20 years, but are 
exceedingly rare because the process requires advanced knowledge of 
chemistry, said Tom Abercrombie, an Oakland, Calif., crime laboratory 
criminalist supervisor, who has investigated two such labs.
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