A string of recent deaths tied to a deadly batch of heroin making its way through the streets of Pittsburgh has reached 17 as of Sunday. According to Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams, the bags of heroin reportedly involved in what’s being called a “major public health crisis” are stamped with the logo “Theraflu” and reportedly contain traces of Fentanyl, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Health officials in Pittsburgh have issued a warning that involves any heroin baggies marked with the word “Theraflu” written in red ink after 17 people overdosed following its use. Toxicologists tested bags containing heroin that were recovered from the scene of deadly drug overdoses marked with this stamp. Initial reports suggest the highly potent, substitute for morphine — fentanyl — was a part of the deadly cocktail. Deaths have been reported in Allegheny County as well as nearby Westmoreland County.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a synthetic opiate that is highly more potent than morphine, a common ingredient in heroin. It is classified as a schedule II prescription drug and is usually prescribed as a pain killer for people who cannot physically tolerate other opiates such as morphine or codeine. Williams told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette fentanyl is between 10 and 100 times more potent than morphine.
Prevention Point Pittsburgh — an advocacy group looking to help addicts with beating their addiction — launched the Overdose Prevention Project in 2002 following a devastating amount of overdose deaths in Allegheny County. Overdose deaths in recent years have continued to rise, especially in Allegheny County, which experts say represents a majority of the national average. Over 6,000 individuals including 4,700 inmates in the County Jail were enrolled in the ODP as of 2008.
Between 1999 and 2004 deaths tied to drug overdoses increased by 62 percent across the country and 97 percent in Allegheny County. Allegheny’s 252 overdose deaths in 2006 were more than both its traffic accidents and homicide deaths combined. Before the ODP was launched, heroin accounted for 64 percent of all overdose deaths compared to just 16 percent in 2006. Unfortunately, where overdose deaths related to heroin have subsided, those caused by prescription opioids have started to rise.