POINT PLEASANT, N.J. —
With more and more addicts turning to heroin because crackdowns on prescription opiate painkillers made them more expensive, there is concern that more people may be exposed to fentanyl-laced heroin during this wave than in previous ones, including in 2006 when hundreds of people from Chicago to Philadelphia died after injecting the drugs.
Last month the Drug Enforcement Administration put out a bulletin warning authorities of “killer heroin,” a mixture up to half fentanyl.
It urged first responders to “exercise extreme caution” when coming into contact with any heroin because Fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin. It is unclear where the fentanyl is coming from. It is typically only distributed in hospitals. It can be administered in the form of a patch, a drip or a lollipop, which patients in pain suck on.
Heroin dealers put so-called stamps on the bags that hold their product, allowing users to delineate between different batches. Oftentimes they are product logos. Authorities said bags bearing the stamps “Bud Light,” “Theraflu” and “Income Tax” have tested positive for fentanyl.
“A lot of those people thought that Bud Light was really hot, it’s really good stuff, it sends you over the edge,” said Ocean County, N.J. Prosecutor Joseph Coronato. “It’s a marketing tool, almost.”
Ocean County has been besieged by heroin and prescription drug overdoses in the past two years; in 2012 there were 53 overdoses in the county that hugs the Jersey Shore and last year there were 112.
“The demand is so high. That’s the problem that’s out there,” Coronato said.
T.J. Smith, a spokesman for the police in Anne Arundel County, Md., said there have been four cases within the last year of heroin found with fentanyl in it, which he called an “unusually high number” in the county. Smith said heroin — both pure and laced with fentanyl — is driving a major increase in property crime. He said the drug has undergone a major change in the past year, with more potentially fatal doses found with fentanyl.