Home | National | Death toll climbs to 22 in Pittsburgh's killer heroin epidemic

Death toll climbs to 22 in Pittsburgh's killer heroin epidemic

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  • Investigators have found many of the drug users possessed heroin bags labelled 'Theraflu,' 'Bud Ice' and 'Income Tax'
  • Tests revealed those bags were laced with the super powerful narcotic Fentanyl
  • Experts have likened the rash of deaths to the 1988 synthetic heroin called 'China White' killed 18 in the city

By Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED: 16:31 EST, 28 January 2014 | UPDATED: 16:37 EST, 28 January 2014

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The death toll has risen to 22 in a killer heroin epidemic that has plagued the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the last nine days.

Numerous more victims of the super-powered heroin are flooding emergency rooms with non-fatal overdoses and even drug dealers are beginning to warn customers about the potency of the new strain.

Health officials believe the culprit is heroin laced with fentanyl, an opiate 100 time more powerful than morphine. The new hotshots are being sold on the street marketed as 'Theraflu,' 'Bud Ice' and 'Income Tax,' according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Public health officials, along with federal, state and local police are rattling the bushes, rounding up addicts and dealers alike to determine the source of the deadly drugs.

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Crisis: Officials say they've found these heroin bags stamped 'Theraflu' in possession of some of the over a dozen dead drug users who've died in the past week

Crisis: Officials say they've found these heroin bags stamped 'Theraflu' in possession of some of the over a dozen dead drug users who've died in the past week

'It's not like this comes from an FDA pharmacy,' Dr Neil Capretto, a medical direction of a local drug rehab clinic, told the newspaper.

'You don't know what's in it. We know that the advice not to use heroin in the first place falls on deaf ears for people with addiction.

'If you don't heed that advice and you are going to use, I would recommend using significantly less because if you don't, this could be the last time you shoot up.'

Three people were declared dead Sunday morning alone after apparent heroin overdoses in Allegheny County and officials warn the situation now looks startlingly like the crisis of 1988 when 18 Pittsburghers were killed by a powerful synthetic heroin called China White.

'The fentanyl we're seeing as a powder has to be made by somebody,' Allegheny County medical examiner Dr. Karl Williams told ABC News. 'Somebody is making this somewhere in a clandestine laboratory.'

Fentanyl is manufactured as a legal pain killer, but authorities suspect the fentanyl that laced the heroin was made in an illegal lab 'by some clever chemists.'

Allegheny county sees about one overdose case per day, Williams said. What's happened in the past week is extremely out of the ordinary.

'We usually deal with 250 drug overdoses a year so what’s going on is really significant,' he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Fentanyl resembles heroin, though it is much more potent, and it has been blamed for dozens of deaths around the U.S.

Found in some of the Theraflu bags was the super-potent narcotic Theraflu, which officials like Allegheny County medical examiner Dr. Karl Williams says makes the recent rash of deaths eerily similar to the 1988 China White epidemic
Office of the Medical Examiner
Dr. Karl Williams MD, MPH, Medical Examiner
1520 Penn Avenue Dot Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Phone: (412) 350-4800 Dot Fax: (412) 350-4899
E-mail Contact E-Mail

Been here before? Found in some of the Theraflu bags was the super-potent narcotic Theraflu, which officials like Allegheny County medical examiner Dr. Karl Williams (right) says makes the recent rash of deaths eerily similar to the 1988 China White epidemic

China White: In 1988, 18 were killed in the Pittsburgh area by a drug called 3-methylfentanyl, a sort of synthetic heroin with the street name China White

China White: In 1988, 18 were killed in the Pittsburgh area by a drug called 3-methylfentanyl, a sort of synthetic heroin with the street name China White

Each of the people who died in the rash of overdoses has a known history of drug abuse, particularly heroin, Williams said.

Deaths also have been reported in Westmoreland County, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s office said.

The area has seen periodic rises in the overdose rate, notably in 1988 when a potent chemical called 3-methylfentanyl, AKA China White, was introduced to heroin users in the area, killing 18 of them.

It remains to be seen if each of the recent victims died due to heroin laced with fentanyl.

'I don’t know yet what we’ll find in the bodies of these people,' Williams said, though something is clearly out there causing the steep rise in heroin-related deaths.

'We’re obviously dealing with a major public health crisis,' he said, something 'bringing to mind the very localized China White epidemic we had in 1988.'

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