Pubdate: Tue, 06 Jun 2006
Source: Patriot-News, The (PA)
Copyright: 2006 The Patriot-News
Author: Carla K. Johnson, The Associated Press
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


Authorities Believe Raid Hit Source Of Pain-Killer Used In Deadly Heroin

CHICAGO - U.S. and Mexican authorities have closed a Mexican lab that 
might have been the main source of a powerful pain-killer that has 
killed heroin users in the Harrisburg and Philadelphia areas and six 
other states.

Those authorities also warned yesterday that millions of deadly doses 
of fentanyl-laced heroin might still be on America's streets.

The mixture has caused at least 100 confirmed deaths from 
Philadelphia to Chicago in recent months. The Harrisburg area had two 
deaths and at least 20 overdoses from heroin cut with fentanyl in 
April, authorities said.

The lethal mix was sold locally in packages marked "Apollo" and was 
sought by users looking for powerful highs, authorities said.

Deaths caused by fentanyl-laced drugs have also occurred in Michigan, 
Missouri, Ohio, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, said John Walters, 
director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Fentanyl, medical authorities said, is prescribed for cancer patients 
and others in extreme pain. The drug is considered 80 times more 
powerful than morphine. An overdose can cause a suffocating feeling 
similar to an asthma attack, slowing breathing to the point of death.

Organizations that run needle exchanges and other health programs for 
drug users are trying to spread the word. "Is your friend turning 
blue?" reads one flier that describes what to do in an emergency.

But to some drug users, seeking a more powerful high, the warnings 
become an advertisement.

In the Detroit area -- the apparent hub of the problem with more than 
100 confirmed cases since last fall -- officials from the national 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were investigating, and 
community organizations were still scrambling at the end of May to 
get the word out to users.

Walters said it was not clear yesterday whether the fentanyl was 
mixed with heroin at the lab in Mexico or after it entered the United 
States. Fentanyl-laced cocaine also has turned up in some cities, he said.

He warned that fentanyl might be coming from other sources as well.

"There may be more than one source," Walters said. "We think this is 
the principal source."

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is testing samples of 
fentanyl seized in the raid near the western city of Guadalajara, but 
it does not yet have confirmation that the drug is linked to the U.S. 
deaths, DEA spokesman Steve Robertson said.

"We hope to have a break in the case, but we're not sure this is it," 
Robertson said. "This is an ongoing investigation, and we're working 
very closely with local authorities."

Five men, all Mexican citizens, were arrested in the May 28 raid, 
Robertson said. Walters described one of them as "the chemist."

"Through standard detective work we're looking to make ties into 
what's going on up here" in the United States, Robertson said.

Walters said the fentanyl-laced heroin might have been used by 
dealers looking for a competitive advantage on the street, but inept 
mixing -- or cutting -- of the drug into heroin made it deadly.

The DEA plans to gather police officers and drug enforcement agents 
for a national meeting on the fentanyl problem June 14-15 in Chicago, 
Robertson said.

Staff writer Tom Bowman contributed to this report.
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