Pubdate: Sat, 03 Feb 2007
Source: Altoona Mirror (PA)
Copyright: 2007 Altoona Mirror
Author: Phil Ray
Bookmark: (Heroin)


HOLLIDAYSBURG -- Blair County Coroner Patricia Ross expressed fear 
last summer that mixing the pain drug Fentanyl with street drugs such 
as heroin or crack cocaine would prove deadly for local addicts.

Those feelings proved to be correct, according to reports Ross filed 
Wednesday in the Blair County Courthouse.

Fentanyl was listed as a factor in seven drug-related deaths in 2006. 
The first occurred in Juniata Jan. 24, 2006, and the last, involving 
a mixture of Fentanyl and heroin, occurred Dec. 2 at an Altoona RR 5 home.

The Fentanyl deaths were among 24 drug overdose deaths Ross reported.

On Jan. 31 of each year, county coroners are required by state law to 
file autopsy reports with their respective counties. Ross ignores a 
state Supreme Court ruling that autopsies are official records and 
instead files a summary.

It lists the deceased's name, age and address and a brief outline of 
what occurred.

The summary then states the coroner's finding -- whether death 
resulted from natural causes, an accident, homicide or suicide.

Drug overdoses are listed for the most part as accidental deaths 
unless the coroner concludes a person used drugs to commit suicide.

Ross' office conducted more than 200 investigations in 2006 that 
included the 24 overdose deaths, 37 motor vehicle deaths and 16 suicides.

In 2005, her office investigated 21 drug-related deaths, 20 suicides 
and 47 motor vehicle deaths.

The county has been plagued by drug problems for the past decade, and 
the abuse of Fentanyl, a painkiller used by cancer patients, is an 
example of how the problem is not going away, Ross said.

Drug addicts used Fentanyl mixed with other drugs to obtain a stronger high.

Users eat or crush the drug, ingesting three days of a time-released 
painkiller within seconds, Ross said.

Mixing Fentanyl with heroin, cocaine or other drugs make its effects 
even worse, she said.

"It's going to catch you," Ross said of those who continue to abuse Fentanyl.

Ross said deaths from drug overdoses represent the tip of the 
iceberg, adding that hundreds of drug abusers are being saved 
annually from death by emergency room doctors or paramedics.

Not all of the report was bad news.

In 2005, Ross investigated 11 homicides, but in 2006, her office 
investigated none.
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