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Doctors Fear Deadly Heroin Mix

Spike In Overdoses Raises Concern About Spreading Synthetic Opiate

June 17, 2006
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer

A deadly mixture of fentanyl-tainted heroin that has claimed the lives of hundreds of addicts across the country might be in Connecticut, officials said.

Although the tainted opiate has not been reported by the Connecticut Poison Control Center or area hospitals, emergency room doctors at Hartford Hospital are concerned about a spike in the number of heroin-addicted patients seeking emergency care in the past week.

"They were not breathing and were at death's door," said Dr. Michael Drescher, the associate chief of the division of emergency medicine at Hartford Hospital. In the past week, Drescher treated three patients, and he said colleagues treated several more. One person is in a coma, the others were revived, Drescher said.

Drescher could not say for sure what the patients had ingested, but he believed it was an opiate. Fentanyl, a narcotic painkiller, is a synthetic opiate that is approximately 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the Justice Department. The patients treated at Hartford Hospital were heroin addicts, mostly men in their 20s.

"This stuff is so poisonous that the victims are found with the needles still in their arms. They go unconscious and it affects their breathing," Drescher said.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it has arrived," said Dr. Charles McKay, of the state's poison control center. He said he received an alert several months ago that the drug might be on its way. No samples being tested by the state laboratory in criminal cases has shown traces of fentanyl.

Fentanyl-laced heroin has been leaving a deadly trail since 2005 in mostly Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast cities and states, such as Camden, N.J., Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Maryland, and Wilmington, Del., according to the Justice Department.

Last month, law enforcement authorities in Mexico seized a fentanyl laboratory, and in February, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents seized a shipment of fentanyl powder near the U.S.-Mexico border, the Justice Department report said.

The extent of the problem didn't become apparent, the Justice Department said, until "the public health community noticed above-average numbers of overdoses."

While Hartford Hospital noticed an increase of overdoses recently, a spokesman at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford said "there were no significant overdoses in the past week."

John Betz, the commander of the Hartford police vice and narcotics division, said his detectives have not received any complaints about bad heroin in the city.

Every time a heroin addict uses the drugs, "you have no idea who made it and what you are taking. You are literally taking your life in your hand," Betz said.

Jim Siemianowski, a spokesman for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said Friday his department will forward the alert it received from the Justice Department on Friday to health providers across the state.

"It's always of concern given the potential lethality," Siemianowski said. "We want to monitor it closely and look at what we can do to alert people who are potentially using."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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