There’s been a new “product launch” in the Pittsburgh region over the last several days and, unfortunately, its main pitchman has been the Grim Reaper.
Many media outlets reported on a potent and deadly form of heroin just unleashed over the last week that, by the latest count, caused the deaths of at least 22 users in four counties. So far, no deaths have been reported in Washington or Greene counties. We’re keeping our fingers crossed this does not change.
The fatal cocktail has apparently been devised by some new distributors looking to make a splash in the market, taking heroin and blending it with fentanyl, a powerful painkiller. They’ve been peddling it in stamp bags under the moniker Theraflu, the same name used for the over-the-counter cold and flu medicine that has come in handy for all too many of us this season.
The deadly concoction is being sold under other labels as well.
The concern is such that Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto delivered a warning that “Those who are in possession of this potent formula are in danger of losing their lives.
It will kill you. The danger cannot be overstated.”
Though much of the spotlight on drug abuse in recent years has focused on the toll exacted by prescription medication – indeed, the number of deaths resulting from the misuse of drugs like Oxycotin, Vicodin and Percocet has exceeded the casualties wrought by such illegal narcotics as heroin and cocaine – the latest rash of deaths around Pittsburgh is a stark and vivid reminder of just how deadly heroin can be.
In recent years, it has become cheaper and more powerful. Many abusers of prescription pills end up switching their allegiance to heroin once they discover they it is “bargain-priced,” or they have been prevented from getting the prescription opiates they crave thanks to new, more stringent laws. Once a problem of the cities, it has spread into the places we think of as tranquil and bucolic, like suburbs and small rural crossroads.
In a 10-year stretch from 2002 to 2012, the number of Americans believed to be using heroin more than doubled, leaping from 166,000 to 335,000. Heroin use has become so epidemic in his state – it’s skyrocketed 770 percent in the last 14 years – that Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State speech earlier this month to heroin abuse, urging treatment efforts be increased and take precedence over arresting and jailing users.
In Wisconsin, the state assembly recently approved a measure that would stop users from being prosecuted if they called 911 to report overdoses, and in Ohio, Attorney General Michael DeWine announced the formation of a new task force that will deal exclusively with the heroin problem within the Buckeye State.
DeWine pointed out that “there are people out there who don’t believe heroin is really in their communities. They don’t want to believe that this can be them – that this can be their child who is addicted or who is going to die from a heroin overdose. The numbers tell a different story.”
If there’s any good that can come from the deaths of so many people from this lethal mixture of heroin, it’s the possibility that addicts who are still alive, but steadily ruining their lives, will be scared straight and seek the treatment they so desperately need.