Potent heroin laced with a powerful painkiller has killed more than two-dozen people and sent more than 300 to hospitals across the eastern U.S. in the past three weeks, reports USA Today. Agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration have joined police to seek the source of the deadly concoction. It surfaced in Chicago on April 13 and has been linked to 11 deaths there since then. As Chicago officials began reporting a surge in heroin-related deaths and overdoses, authorities in Camden, N.J.; Wilmington, Del.; Salisbury, Md.; Harrisburg, Pa.; and several other communities did, too.
To blame in many cases appears to be heroin mixed with fentanyl, a potent form of synthetic morphine that is used to treat extreme pain. The mixing of such a powerful, costly drug with heroin for street sales is very unusual, says DEA’s Mary Cooper. Heroin typically is diluted, or “cut,” with common household substances such as sugar, flour, quinine, or starch. Such fillers help drug traffickers boost profits. The recent deaths and overdoses illustrated addicts’ vulnerability to distributors who mix illegal drugs, as well as the broad reach of drug rings that move heroin from Mexico and Colombia to the U.S., Cooper says. A distributor with 1 kilogram of heroin – about 2.2 pounds – can produce 25,000 doses that typically sell on the street for $10 each.