Tox Tuesday: Tainted heroin

Drug Syringe And Cooked HeroinConcerns continue to rise in parts of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York as various unknown substances being sold as heroin have been linked to at least six overdose deaths in recent months. While authorities are still unsure exactly what the substances are composed of, they have chosen to not keep this quickly escalating drug problem under wraps. Instead, forces have joined together to alert the public in hopes of educating users and cautioning them that the drugs they are buying may not be what they think they are.

According to a news release from the New Jersey State Police Department, these drugs are being sold under the names, “Strike Dead,” “Taliban” and “Power Hour,” and are so powerful, that Narcan, the overdose drug often used by law enforcement and first responders to prevent opioid-induced fatal overdoses, is not effective. The brands were identified by the New Jersey Regional Operations and Intelligence Center working with the New Jersey Department of Health and law enforcement in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York through the center’s Drug Monitoring Initiative (DMI).

DMI was created in 2009 with the Office of Forensic Science to address pervasive use of heroin and opiates and associated violent crimes and burglaries, state police said in the article. The initiative can “expeditiously collect and analyze seized drugs,” allowing law enforcement and health care officials to quickly notify the public of potentially lethal batches of drugs in the region as overdoses are reported.

New Jersey State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes said in a statement that “a fresh approach” in the battle against heroin, focused on information-sharing from local through federal levels is necessary.

“When we learn of clusters of drug overdoses, we immediately alert our law enforcement partners with details of the threat,” he stated. “We are first and foremost interested in saving lives, and that is what this early notification protocol is all about.”

Sold in wax folds similar to heroin, laboratory analysis on these particular drugs revealed highly potent and dangerous drug combinations not typically seen. However, the warnings on these drugs have come just days after a New Jersey media report was issued about fentanyl, a powerful and potentially deadly opioid, which has been found more frequently in doses of heroin in the state.  According to another article, it was not immediately clear if fentanyl was found in the three brands of drugs identified by authorities.

“We’re putting this out there as a public service. If people are out there that may be in possession of some of these brands, they may not know what’s inside them,” Sergeant Jeff Flynn of the New Jersey State Police said in an article. “They don’t know what they’re getting into and if they overdose, when first responders arrive, the Narcan is not going to save them.”

Heroin and opioid abuse has been called New Jersey’s number one health crisis by state officials and these new concerns come at a time when drug overdose has surpassed traffic accidents as the number one accidental death in the state. In fact, heroin and opioid abuse has been responsible for the death of more than 5,000 people since 2004, according to state statistics.

Irrespective of how the state arrived at such an unenviable position, the state’s governor, Chris Christie, said in a recent interview that government has a role in making sure those shackled by  get the help they need and that changing course to a system that values treatment over incarceration is necessary.  The War on Drugs has failed, he said, and it’s time to move on.

According to the article, in 2010, the state estimated 37% of people seeking substance abuse treatment in New Jersey did not receive it. Since then, the number of heroin-related deaths has increased by 160%, while the number of people in treatment for heroin or opioids has only increased by 15%.

“I don’t want to build a bunch of new state facilities. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do from a fiscal perspective or for the long-term treatment of these folks,” Governor Christie said in the interview. “We’ve got to be able to have local government agencies, the counties in particular do a better job…to say, ‘here’s where you go, here’s the options for detox that are available’…and help them connect those dots.”

Somerset County, N.J.,is an example of one community that has taken matters into its own hands and established “Community in Crisis,” a multi-faceted and extensive approach spearheaded by the local YMCA and members of the community. It is composed of seven task forces: mental health and addiction support, law enforcement/EMT, parental and school involvement, public policy support and community education, physician outreach, community engagement and fund raising.

As stated in another article, their efforts range from creating an informational website, setting up more prescription pill drop off collections,and educating physicians and other medical personnel. The goal is to educate the community and help parents realize that drug abuse is a disease that does not discriminate.

“People just don’t know what to do when they’re faced with a dilemma or crisis,” Andi Williams, a member of the community group, said in the article. “Especially in communities like ours — we’re a very wealthy community and so there’s a grappling with reality that this is actually here.”

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