In an effort to jam up and ultimately dismantle the pipeline of deadly fentanyl-laced heroin flowing into Western Pennsylvania, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane has set up her office as a clearinghouse for information on the drug suspected in the deaths of nearly two dozen people over the past 10 days.
"We want to make sure that we have all the information that we can," Ms. Kane said Tuesday in an interview. "We're coordinating efforts to find out where the dealers are and where the supply is coming from."
Those coordinated efforts include working with law enforcement agencies on every government level and establishing a tip line -- 1-800-442-8006 -- manned by an agent in her office.
"We've contacted coroners, EMS providers and hospitals so we can gather all of the information, centralize it and make sure we can best use the intelligence," Ms. Kane said. "We've also put a lot of boots on the ground."
Those boots were set to walking Tuesday in pursuit of a "credible" tip Ms. Kane said her office received about the suppliers of the tainted heroin. She declined to provide details. As for the source, Ms. Kane said what other law enforcement officers have recently surmised: It's not local.
"I can tell you that it's out of state," Ms. Kane said, "and anything beyond that we really don't want to give up too much information because, believe it or not, the dealers will know who we're talking about and go into hiding."
Pittsburgh police also were pursuing information Tuesday as narcotics detectives worked overtime to backtrack from addict to dealer and beyond.
"We have some pretty good leads," Pittsburgh police narcotics Cmdr. Linda Rosato-Barone said.
In Homestead, police were anticipating preparing arrest paperwork for two suspects after a search warrant executed Sunday led them to about 1,500 stamp bags of "Bud Ice" heroin, cutting agents and packaging materials at a home on 20th Avenue.
"We have no word yet even if it has any of the fentanyl in it," Homestead police Chief Jeffrey DeSimone said. "We're still waiting for analysis."
The Allegheny County medical examiner's office announced that tests positively identified heroin and fentanyl in stamp bags retrieved from at least some of the scenes of 15 suspected overdose deaths in the county. It's what investigators had assumed but did not know with certainty.
Drug dealers peddling the killer combination appear to be changing the street name of their product as law enforcement pressure builds and public outreach raises awareness of the sometimes fatal mixture that had been sold as "Theraflu" and "Bud Ice."
A Pennsylvania State Police bulletin sent to law enforcement agencies over the weekend that warned of overdoses in the northwestern part of the state mentioned the brand names that had been associated with fatal overdoses in and around Pittsburgh as well as two new monikers: "Coors Light" and "Diesel."
Separately, according to two different law enforcement agencies, another brand called "Magic City" has cropped up.
Once dealers figure out that authorities are searching for a particular brand of heroin their tactic is either to market it without a stamp or change the name, according to Ms. Kane.
Beaver County District Attorney Anthony J. Berosh confirmed Tuesday that he was aware of the "Coors Light" and "Diesel" brands of laced heroin.
"We're trying to get the word out just how toxic and deadly it is," Mr. Berosh said. "You can't be addicted to this new enhanced form because you're dead before you're addicted."
Federal law enforcement took a more prominent role Tuesday. Allegheny County Police met with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. And U.S. attorney David J. Hickton called the overdose outbreak "the most pressing crime problem for law enforcement."
The DEA has set up a tip line at 412-287-3829. People can also text the agency at Tip411 with the keyword "PGHOD" followed by the information.
In addition to law enforcement efforts, the Allegheny County Health Department and Prevention Point Pittsburgh, a nonprofit, battled the crisis in their own ways.
On Monday, health director Karen Hacker met with county police, emergency medical services, the medical examiner's office and Prevention Point Pittsburgh to coordinate their efforts.
Alice Bell, overdose prevention project coordinator for Prevention Point Pittsburgh, fears that today's tainted heroin crisis might be a harbinger of things to come in the wake of attempts to flatten a spike in fatal prescription opioid overdoses.
"Even if they're able to find the source of this particular batch, I think it's going to be an ongoing problem," Ms. Bell said.
Jonathan D. Silver: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg. First Published January 28, 2014 12:59 PM