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Mexico possible fentanyl source

5 arrested in raid of clandestine lab there

BY KIM NORRIS DETROIT FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER June 3, 2006

A clandestine lab in Mexico could be the source of a powerful pain medication that has tainted street drugs and caused hundreds of deaths around the country, including 52 people in Wayne County in the past two weeks.

Mexican authorities raided the fentanyl lab last weekend and arrested five people.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigators are working with the Mexican authorities in an effort to determine if the fentanyl manufactured in the lab is the same as the drug being found in cocaine and heroin supplies in southeast Michigan as well as in Chicago, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pa., and Camden, N.J.

"We do not have 100% confirmation that's the source, but it is one of the solid leads we have," said Carolyn Gibson, spokeswoman for the DEA Detroit division, which has been investigating fentanyl-laced street drugs since November.

"We're extremely hopeful that it may be the source of the deadly mixture," she said Friday.

There were no reported fentanyl-related deaths Thursday night or Friday afternoon.

The chemical signature of the drug is unique to its manufacturer, enabling investigators to determine if the drug found in different cities is from the same place and, ultimately, if it came from a particular source. Gibson likened the chemical signature to a bullet shell casing that indicates the gun that fired it.

Gibson said investigators continue to pursue other leads as well.

Fentanyl, which is 80 times more powerful than morphine, frequently is prescribed for terminally ill patients in chronic pain.

On May 19, after 12 people died in 24 hours, Wayne County health officials alerted the public to the deadly mixture on the streets.

Contact KIM NORRIS at 248-351-5186 or norris@freepress.com.