Three arrested in fentanyl-laced heroin death in Westmoreland County, where heroin overdose deaths reach all time-high
February 27, 2015 11:24 PM
Pennsylvania State Police Greensburg barracks
Drugs and money recovered during a Greensburg heroin bust earlier this year.
Kristy Sue Guzzi
By Lexi Belculfine / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Three people from Armstrong County face charges in connection with an overdose death in Westmoreland County linked to the fentanyl-laced heroin known as “theraflu,” the state attorney general’s office announced Friday.
Christina Donati-Racioppo of Lower Burrell was one of 22 people in Western Pennsylvania who died in 2014 from fentanyl-laced heroin, and one of 36 people in Westmoreland County to die last year from a heroin overdose, an all-time high there, authorities said.
The bag of heroin that killed Ms. Donati-Racioppo on Jan. 22, 2014, was stamped “theraflu,” found to contain “a deadly mix of heroin and the narcotic Fentanyl,” the attorney general’s office said.
Demetrius Houser, 19, of Arnold; Kristy Guzzi, 31, of Leechburg; and Derek Miller, 32, of Apollo, who has not yet been arrested, each face a count of delivery resulting in death and related charges.
Heroin overdose deaths in Westmoreland County reached an all-time high last year, though the coroner there said the surge was expected as the county expends resources to counter addictions to prescription pain medications.
“Because of a clamping down on pain medications in the last year or so, it’s moving people to heroin sooner,” said Westmoreland County Coroner Kenneth A. Bacha, whose office released its 2014 Annual Report on Friday.
Mr. Bacha said the county’s Drug Overdose Task Force has decreased the availability of opiate painkillers on the streets by asking doctors and nurses to review prescribing guidelines for pain management.
The highest number of heroin deaths ever in the county — 36 in 2014 — is a “negative side effect initially” but will turn around, Mr. Bacha said.
Nine people died in Westmoreland County from heroin overdoses in 2011; and 27 and 26 died in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
There were 87 total drug overdoses in 2014, one more than in 2013, according to the coroner’s report.
Future programs in the county could reverse the trend, Mr. Bacha said, including opening in-patient treatment centers and getting Narcan — which can reverse the effects of opiates — to all first responders and family and friends of addicts. Mr. Bacha said overall overdose deaths and homicides seem to be “starting to hit a plateau.”
Ten homicides were reported last year, the highest since 1989, when there were 11. Nine occurred in 2011 and 2013, compared with five in 2012.
Sixty suicides, marking an all-time high, were reported last year in Westmoreland County.
By comparison, eight homicides were reported in Washington County in 2014, Washington County Coroner S. Timothy Warco said; 36 people there died from drug overdoses, and nine of those deaths were attributed to heroin or heroin and a combination of other drugs.
The U.S. Census Bureau projected that in 2013, Westmoreland County’s population would be 362,437, compared with Washington County’s 208,206 residents.
Allegheny County, with a population of more than 1.2 million, had 113 homicides in 2014, the medical examiner’s office said. Numbers of overdose deaths were not available Friday.