Heroin is back in the national spotlight following the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died of an apparent overdose. But while the drug is dangerous in and of itself, health officials are warning of a deadly trend: mixing heroin with a powerful painkiller called fentanyl.
"In our own area there have been dozens of Fentanyl related overdoses. In the city of Poughkeepsie alone, there were 68 overdoses in the past year." (Via WNBC)
"That brings the total number of deaths so far this year to 38. That's the same number as all of the murders in the state in 2013." (Via WLNE)
Fentanyl is a potent anesthetic and painkiller, dozens of times more powerful than morphine. It's cheaper and more potent than heroin, meaning dealers can stretch their supplies farther while providing a stronger high. But one drug enforcement officer tells CNN the dealers often don't tell the buyer.
"Two to three grains of salt, just to put it into perspective, of fentanyl mixed in with heroin can kill a seasoned heroin addict."
"And they don't tell you it's in there."
Slate points out the mixture isn't particularly new, but there's does seem to be an uptick lately. "Such outbreaks seem to occur every few years, as drug suppliers find a prolific and cheap source of fentanyl or this particular drug cocktail gains popularity on the street."
The biggest recent surge came in 2005 and 2006, when 1,000 deaths over a two year period were blamed on the potent mixture. (Via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
No fentanyl was found in Hoffman's system, but one recovering heroin addict warned Fox News when it comes to illegal drugs, buyers beware.
"You don't know what's in those bags. You don't know. You're taking a risk. ... But those cravings are so deep that you're willing to take that chance just to get that next fix."