Philadelphia officials have issued a warning that dangerous heroin laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl is circulating in the area, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The drug combo killed at least 28 people between March 3 and April 20, said the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability. The department is awaiting test results on seven more people. The powerful narcotic, which is meant to treat extreme pain, was implicated in 269 deaths in 2006 in Philadelphia. It killed more than 2,000 people across the U.S. that year.
Roland Lamb, director of the city Office of Addiction Services, said he found the new spike in deaths “very concerning,” and wants to avoid a repeat of the 2006 epidemic. The city had 24 deaths due to illicit fentanyl in 2013. When used legally, fentanyl is delivered primarily through a patch worn on the skin, said Matthew Hurford, chief medical officer for the Office of Addiction Services. Illicit fentanyl can be a white powder like heroin, but is 50 times stronger. It suppresses respiration receptors in the brain. That can make users stop breathing. Because it is so powerful, fentanyl can make heroin more attractive to addicts. However, Hurford said, it is “thought to produce less of the euphoric effect associated with heroin.”