Pubdate: Fri, 30 Jun 2006
Source: Detroit News (MI)
Section: Metro/State
Copyright: 2006, The Detroit News
Author: Paul Egan


But Attempting To Get A Murder Conviction Would Be A Challenge, Says 
Drug Enforcement Agent.

DETROIT -- The deadly combination of heroin and fentanyl that has 
killed more than 130 Metro Detroit drug users since September was 
probably mixed locally by dealers seeking to boost their profits, 
says the special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration in Detroit.

"I strongly believe that it's getting mixed at the street level," 
Robert Corso said of the heroin-fentanyl combination in his first 
interview since the recent spike in overdose deaths was made public in May.

"It's a financial issue. They may have some crappy heroin, and 
they're trying to get more money for it."

Adding fentanyl -- a painkiller about 50 times more potent than 
morphine that is used as an anesthetic and for acute pain in some 
cancer patients -- gives diluted or impure heroin an added punch. 
However, a dose as small as a few grains of salt can be fatal, and 
those mixing it are not trained chemists or pharmacists.

The lethal concoction likely was mixed by local dealers, but getting 
a murder conviction in such a case would be a challenge, Corso said.

"It would have to have an aggressive prosecution," he said. "A big 
part of a murder prosecution is intent, and proving a guy on the 
street was mixing some drug intending to kill a particular person -- 
I don't know."

Officials have brought drug charges against three Detroit-area men 
believed to be connected to the fentanyl-laced heroin sales.

The DEA -- which places emphasis on cracking the highest levels of 
drug trafficking organizations, rather than street-level users -- 
first raised an alert about the tainted heroin in November, when it 
said its agents bought drugs in Detroit containing "potentially 
lethal" levels of fentanyl.

A broader alert was not issued to the public until May, when Wayne 
County officials tied a spike in overdose deaths to fentanyl.

Rather than being seen as a deadly threat, fentanyl is a selling 
point for many users, Corso said. In Chicago, the DEA issued a 
warning that a heroin-fentanyl mixture was being sold at a particular 
location, and "the next day users were lined up around the corner, 
trying to get that product," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman