Health officials have declared a public health crisis in Pittsburgh after a deadly type of heroin killed 17 people in one week, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It’s the latest example of a trend the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans about in August — heroin spiked with the powerful painkiller acetyl fentanyl, which has been responsible for a spate of overdoses across the U.S. in the past year.
This isn’t the first time fentanyl has shown up in heroin sold on the streets of the U.S. — back in 2006, for example, police in Chicago noticed that dozens of recent overdoses were caused by heroin laced with the drug — but it does appear that this specific derivative of fentanyl is particularly dangerous and new to the market.
Acetyl fentanyl is a man-made version of the painkiller fentanyl and isn’t available on the prescription market. The CDC notes that it’s up to five times more potent than heroin.
The acetyl fentanyl overdoses in Rhode Island last year were the first documented cases of the synthetic opioid showing up in illegal drugs, and more possible cases have popped up in other states since the CDC issued their initial warning. Cases have been confirmed in Pennsylvania and Louisiana, and authorities in Massachusetts are worried that some recent overdose deaths there are linked to the deadly synthetic.
People who are buying drugs laced with acetyl fentanyl might have no idea that they’re not getting what’s marketed to them. Acetyl fentanyl has appeared in both heroin and in pills sold as oxycodone.
We’re likely to see even more overdoses from this new designer drug in the future since heroin use is already skyrocketing in the U.S.
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