Addicts seek out drugs blamed for deaths
Press, April 25, 2006
After Ellen Krips' cousin died of an overdose of extremely
potent drugs last week, the heroin addict's first thought
was not how she could avoid the bad junk.
It was more like: I have to
get some of that stuff.
A bad batch of drugs for sale
on the streets of Philadelphia and southern New Jersey has
killed at least nine heroin users over the past two weeks.
And while authorities are warning people to stay away from
the stuff, they are afraid some junkies are drawing the
Like Krips, 32, they are
intrigued by the possibility of a powerful new high.
Investigators are trying to
determine exactly what is in the stuff, which is being sold
as heroin under such names as "Flatline" and "Capone." Since
Friday, about 70 people have been hospitalized.
Tests done in one community
show that what was sold as heroin was mostly fentanyl, a
drug 80 times more powerful than morphine. It is used to
treat chronic pain and as anesthesia for open-heart surgery.
No heroin was in the batch.
Medical experts say fentanyl,
which has been harming Chicago-area addicts for a few months
and has shown up mixed with heroin in Cleveland and
elsewhere this year, can cause breathing problems and make
users feel as if they are suffocating.
William Gamble, 40, said he
was sickened last week. Hours after a state trooper warned
him that "Flatline" was dangerous, Gamble bought three, $10
doses of "Capone." He, his wife and another man shot up in
an abandoned house. The men passed out quickly, but both
survived and were not hospitalized. His wife was not
Warnings from police,
counselors and news outlets have had the opposite effect on
"If I tell someone I OD'd,
they're coming to find that bag," said Gamble, who goes
through seven or eight bags of heroin a day.
Authorities arrested 11
heroin users in Camden last week in an effort to track the
drugs back to the dealers and their suppliers. By Tuesday,
those dealers had not been found.
Some public health officials
estimate that 10,000 people in the Philadelphia area are
addicted to heroin. With major airports and seaports nearby,
Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York dealers are known to
sell heroin in highly pure forms.
Johnny "J.B." Brown, a drug
counselor who cruises the streets of this impoverished city
in an RV, offering HIV tests and other services for drug
users and prostitutes, has been trying to warn users.
"You being careful out there?
You know, there's some bad dope," Brown said Monday as a
steady stream of drug users approached for snacks, condoms
and bleach kits to clean their needles.
All of them said they have
heard about the killer drugs. But they said stuff so strong
that it kills is impossible to resist. And even if they
wanted to avoid the bad stuff, they might not be able to,
since it is never clear which bag might contain fentanyl or
some other deadly substance.
"It's like Russian roulette,"
said addict Michelle Galante, 28, of Swedesboro, "just like
Stephen Marcus, medical
director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center, said he
hopes more publicity about the dangerous drugs will help
uncover similar problems elsewhere. But he also knows that
every news report might serve as a commercial for drug
"Will this make the drug
abusers go out particularly looking for the stronger stuff?"
he asked. "If it does, it's a double-edged sword."