Deadlier-than-usual heroin — packaged in bags stamped with the brands Theraflu, Income Tax and Bud Ice — have not been found in Indiana County by local law enforcement agencies. But that doesn’t mean the especially lethal heroin isn’t here, some Indiana County officers said.
In recent weeks, heroin found at nearly two dozen suspected overdose deaths in the Pittsburgh area contained fentanyl, a synthetic morphine substitute that can be up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Narcotics agents have found the fentanyl-tainted heroin close to Indiana County — in neighboring Armstrong and Westmoreland counties — and in Allegheny, Butler, Lawrence and Beaver counties.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said her office was working with state and local police agencies in the western part of the state to locate the source of the tainted heroin. Her office has also contacted hospitals and medical examiners and asked them to be on the lookout for the deadly drug in overdose victims.
“We haven’t seen any” of the heroin bags stamped with the brands found recently at several fatal overdoses, said Sgt. Anthony Clement of the Indiana Borough Police Department.
And Indiana County Sheriff Robert Fyock said his deputies have not encountered any of the heroin bags branded Theraflu, Income Tax or Bud Ice.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not here,” Fyock said, adding that if it’s been identified in neighboring counties it’s probably “inevitable” that officers in Indiana County will see it.
“If it’s here, we’ll probably see overdoses,” agreed Clement, who is also a field supervisor in the Indiana County Drug Task Force. “There’s a lot of heroin (in the Indiana area). It’s probably more popular than any other illicit drug, except marijuana. It’s really exploded in the past four or five years.”
Clement said there are varying opinions explaining heroin’s growing popularity. One is that some people who are addicted to prescription pain-killers have switched to heroin because heroin is cheaper on the street than some pain medications at pharmacies, especially if the user doesn’t have a health care insurance plan. Clement said a 10-bag bundle of heroin sells for about $150 around Indiana.
Aside from completely kicking their drug habit and getting immediately into a rehab program, there’s not much addicts can do to protect themselves from potentially fatal concoctions like the fentanyl-laced heroin.
“I don’t think you ever know what you’re getting” when you buy something off the street that probably was cooked in someone’s kitchen, Clement said. “Any time you put something like that in your body you run a great risk that you don’t know what you’re getting.”
“The dealer’s out to make money. That’s the bottom line,” he said.
Trooper John Matchik, a state police public relations officer, said he was not aware of any fentanyl-laced heroin being found in the jurisdiction of the Indiana state police station.
And David Rostis, chief detective in the Indiana County District Attorney’s office and the supervisor of the Indiana County Drug Task Force, said county detectives and task force agents have not encountered the fentanyl-tainted heroin in their investigations or undercover drug buys.
Most heroin seized in Indiana County comes from Allegheny or Westmoreland counties, Rostis said, and the district attorney’s staff is working with the state attorney general’s office in trying to trace the deadly heroin back to its source.
Ironically and sadly, Rostis said, all the publicity about the dangerous heroin appears to actually be driving up the demand. Rostis said informants told drug agents that addicts are “reaching out” and trying to find supplies of the heroin with the Theraflu, Bud Ice and Income Tax brands.
“People just rush to it,” Rostis said. “They want good, strong heroin.”