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22 Deaths Now Blamed On Dangerously Potent, Fentanyl-Laced Heroin

UPDATED: 01/27/14 6:01 p.m.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) - At least 22 people in Western Pennsylvania, including 15 in Allegheny County have now been killed by a deadly mix of heroin and the narcotic Fentanyl.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane made that announcement Monday.

Together the drugs are creating an extremely dangerous and potentially lethal combination for users.

And it was stamp bags like the ones discovered on East 20th Street in Homestead Monday by a joint Munhall-Homestead heroin investigation that helped put more stamp bag labels under a warning from law enforcement. Some of them were labeled "Bud Ice."

The heroin is believed to be in bags stamped with the words Theraflu, Bud Ice and Income Tax.

"Heroin with these specific stamps has been identified by narcotics agents not only in Allegheny County, but also in Westmoreland, Armstrong, Butler, Lawrence and Beaver counties. However, these stamped bags could already or eventually be available in other counties across Pennsylvania," Kane said.

Kane also said, "we are working with the Allegheny County Police Department, the Pittsburgh Police, and their counterparts in the region to get this deadly mix of heroin off the streets of Western Pennsylvania, and to arrest and prosecute anyone caught selling, distributing, and producing these drugs. We are contacting hospitals, medical examiners, and police departments in surrounding areas to be on the lookout for these specific stamps of heroin."

Pittsburgh's mayor says don't presume this is an inner city problem.

"Many of these people were white, 20, 30 years old," says Mayor Bill Peduto. "I'm not sure of their professional background. Heroin doesn't pick and choose by class or by race. If somebody has an addictive personality and they get into heroin, then they're stuck."

One of the victims went to Allied Addiction Recovery and was trying to work through the insurance coverage process for addiction when he sought help.

Watch Marty Griffin's report:

"The individual that we dealt with, we had just seen him last Sunday," says CEO Barney Seaton. "He was in need of greater services than we could provide him because we're not in network. We told him that. We said you need to go through your insurance. He said, 'I can't get in anywhere.' So we said here's what we can offer you, if it doesn't work we will work with you to try and get you into a network place. And he agreed to that but his first group was Sunday and he isn't show up group members told us he was one of the people that died from the Theraflu heroin."

Three people were declared dead Sunday from apparent heroin overdoses in Pittsburgh, a day after a county health official reported that 17 people had died from heroin overdoses in the past week.

Four people had reportedly died from overdoses Saturday, which prompted officials to issue an alert.

According to the medical examiner's office, preliminary tests on the bags labeled "Theraflu" show they appear to contain the drug Fentanyl.

Fentanyl is roughly 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Neighbors remembered seeing the body of Sean Becker being removed from a home on Choate Way Saturday in Bloomfield. Authorities believe Becker died from the same strain of Heroin.

Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams thinks the county is facing a public safety crisis, because of the rash overdose deaths since Friday.

"When you get four in one day, three in another day, you've got a marked increase," he said. "That associated with some change in the pattern of what drugs people are getting."

Last Thursday, police caught Tray Alexander Clark in Penn Hills with 9,000 stamped bags of heroin -- worth $100,000. Each of those bags was marked with "Theraflu."

Williams says it brings back memories of the China white heroin epidemic of 1998, when at least 13 people died from drug overdoses. Like today, authorities say the heroin back then contained Fentanyl.

"In 1998, it unraveled very quickly because it was just in Pittsburgh and they were pretty rapidly able to identify the chemist that was making it through the people that were distributing it on the streets," he said.

Williams thinks Fentanyl-laced heroin is now a nation-wide problem. He says in 1998 there were 100 overdose deaths, compared to 250 last year.

"A lot of people that think that they're getting heroin," he said, "may be getting something that is 10 to 100 times more potent than heroin."


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