Fentanyl found in seized heroin

Police fear dealers may be repackaging lethal heroin

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At least one unmarked stamp bag of heroin confiscated by police has tested positive for fentanyl, adding weight to the possibility that drug dealers might be repackaging the painkiller-laced heroin found in bags labeled "Get High or Die Trying."

Samples from bags with that logo have tested positive for fentanyl, which is 80 times more powerful than morphine and thought to be responsible for scores of deaths throughout the country.

"It looks to me like the 'Get High or Die Trying' has fentanyl in it, and there are some bags without any stamp at all that have some fentanyl in it," Dr. Frederick Fochtman, director of the forensic science laboratory division and chief toxicologist of the Allegheny County medical examiner's office, said yesterday.

It is an open question whether the heroin-fentanyl combination that has proven so deadly elsewhere will turn out to be equally as deadly in Allegheny County.

As of yesterday, police were investigating 48 overdoses -- including eight fatalities -- throughout the county to see if they are linked to fentanyl.

Police recovered heroin from seven of the eight death scenes, Dr. Fochtman said. But samples from only two of those scenes tested positive for fentanyl, he added.

Investigators are examining possible overdose deaths in Aspinwall, Greenfield, Hazelwood, Lawrenceville, Munhall and Oakland.

Dr. Fochtman could not say which of the scenes yielded the heroin with fentanyl, but a news release from Pittsburgh police said fentanyl was not found in the heroin recovered from two scenes in Lawrenceville.

As a result, Pittsburgh police said the deaths of Robert Dykeman, 50, and Sean Woods, 34, do not appear to be connected to their investigation. Mr. Dykeman and Mr. Woods were found within blocks of each other, one in a house and one in a car, in Lawrenceville late Thursday morning.

Fentanyl has been discovered in samples from nonfatal overdoses.

"I think there were a considerable number of [nonfatal] overdoses that were tied to the stamp bag 'Get High or Die Trying' that did have the fentanyl in it," Dr. Fochtman said.

Pittsburgh police narcotics Cmdr. Maurita Bryant cautioned that a negative lab test for fentanyl in heroin recovered by detectives is not conclusive.

"What was left, what they had to test from, might have been residue in a bag or something. There's nothing to say that a bag that had fentanyl residue wasn't discarded or somebody else wasn't there and removed the bags," Cmdr. Bryant said. "The only way to be sure is once they do the toxicology on the victims."

Dr. Fochtman said toxicology tests will take several weeks.

Stamp bags marked "Get High or Die Trying" have appeared in Mount Oliver.

Police Chief Frank Mosesso said officers received a call for a possible overdose at 3:52 a.m. Tuesday. A female victim was revived by paramedics. Police found a stamp bag marked "Get High or Die Trying," another marked "Cadillac" and others that the chief declined to identify. He said the heroin might have been purchased in Hazelwood.

Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.


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