'Bad Heroin': Fentanyl Gives Lethal High

First Posted: Feb 19, 2014 11:30 AM EST

Health officials around the country are blaming a deadly combination of heroin and the narcotic fentanyl for over 80 deaths around the United States in just the last few weeks. The powerful drug fentanyl is over prescribed to terminally ill cancer patients during end-of-life care, according to

"A very small amount can exert a very significant effect," Eric Strain, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Research at Johns Hopkins University, via the Associated Press (AP), discussing the risks.

Many fear that recent trends exhibiting a major increase in drug overdoses suggest that it is being made by area residents.

"This is not accidental," said Dr. Karl Williams, the chief medical examiner in Pennsylvania's Allegheny County, via ABC News, from a January article. "Somebody is deliberately trying to make a big batch of fentanyl. It is not an extraordinarily complex molecule to synthesize, and you can find instructions on the Internet. It does not take a sophisticated chemist to do this."

Twenty-two Pennsylvania residents are among the recent victims of the health issue, coming from as many as six different counties and overdosing on a combination of fentanyl mixed with either cocaine or heroin. When these compounds mix, this can amplify their strength and result in sedation and nausea problems.

According to Williams, many of the illicit drug combinations have been popping up in small bags labeled as prescription drugs, such as Bud Ice and Theraflu.

"The dealers push this as being a super high, which it is, but it's also lethal," Ellen Unterwald, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the Temple University School of Medicine, told the Associated Press. 

A recent study published by the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment showed that drug users are at a 14-times higher risk of fatality than the general population. The researchers analyzed data regarding the mortality risks of both cocaine and heroin users.

Findings also revealed that men were 1.5 times more likely than women to die, with certain addiction risk factors including personality traits, mental disorders and social conditions that support drug dependence.

From 2005 to 2006, nearly 1,000 people died due to fentanyl related overdoses--the single highest number reported in the U.S. for the time. The source of the drug at the time was traced to a single factor in Toluca, Mexico, according to USA Today.

A combination of  "bad heroin" or the fentanyl mixed with heroin is also blamed for the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, according to Slate

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