Pubdate: Sat, 08 Jul 2006
Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Copyright: 2006 The Citizens' Voice
Author: Heidi Ruckno
Bookmark: (Heroin)


WILKES-BARRE -- Four drug overdoses in one day have a local hospital 
official concerned that a bad batch of heroin has hit Northeastern 
Pennsylvania streets.

Two of those overdoses occurred simultaneously Friday around 3 p.m. 
in the Citizens Bank parking garage on South Franklin Street, 
according to witnesses. They were both taken to area hospitals.

Luzerne County Coroner Dr. Jack Consalvo said one of those overdoses was fatal.

Wilkes-Barre General Hospital treated three overdoses Friday and 
Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre treated one, hospital officials said.

While the Geisinger staff has not noticed a higher volume of 
overdoses, Wilkes-Barre General emergency room physician Annette 
Brunetti, D.O., said she and her colleagues have seen a spike in the 
past week. The emergency room staff is worried bad heroin has finally 
arrived in Northeastern Pennsylvania, she said.

"We're pretty suspicious that there's a bad group of drugs out 
there," Brunetti said. "We're not sure what they're cut with, but 
it's something pretty powerful."

Brunetti is concerned that heroin laced with the powerful painkiller 
fentynal, commonly referred to as bad heroin, might be responsible 
for the increase in overdoses.

She cannot prove that theory without complete toxicology test 
results, which were not immediately available.

Fentynal, stronger than heroin, is often prescribed to terminal 
cancer patients. One dose provides 72 hours of pain relief.

"They're both very strong narcotics that depress respiration. You get 
deaths from them because (people have) stopped breathing," Brunetti said.

Fentynal-laced heroin is blamed for at least 100 deaths from 
Philadelphia to Chicago, according to a recent article in the 
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Associated Press reported the drug caused two deaths last week in 
Camden County, N.J., and Reading news outlets reported Tuesday the 
drug had likely reached Berks County.

Kingston Narcotics Detective Rich Kotchik, a member of the Luzerne 
County Drug Task Force, knew the heroin was in New Jersey and heard 
it had reached Reading. He could not say if it has reached Luzerne 
County. The only way to know for sure is to run toxicology tests, he said.

Wilkes-Barre police would not comment on the possibility of bad 
heroin in the area. Officers respond to drug overdoses, but they 
generally do not test the drugs that are used, police said.

In addition, the Attorney General's Office did not return calls 
seeking comment.

Consalvo has been waiting for the lethal cocktail to arrive in 
Northeastern Pennsylvania. To date it has not caused any overdose 
deaths locally, he said.

"If it's here, people know how to deal with it. They learned that you 
can't use as much of it," he said.

Still, Consalvo has repeatedly cautioned against the recreational use 
of fentynal. This year he's seen six overdoses on pharmaceutical fentynal.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman