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February 10, 2014

Dying for a fix

Local police react to threat of fentanyl-laced heroin

Police watched as a young mother driving a silver Toyota Matrix pulled into a gas station on the Lawrence/Methuen line. Her 6-month-old child was secured in a carrier in the back of the car. Hypodermic needles were strewn across the passenger seat.

She and two friends were in possession of heroin, prompting a search of her vehicle, police said.

The woman was allowed to call a family member to come get her baby as police investigated. She was issued a summons to appear in court for being present where heroin is kept.

There’s no way of really knowing, but perhaps this was one time police saved someone from becoming another overdose victim.

Reports of heroin overdoses are spiking nationally at an alarming rate.

Law enforcement blames many of the overdoses on heroin laced with fentanyl — a synthetic drug introduced in the 1960s as an intravenous anesthetic. It is stronger than morphine, another painkiller used for extreme pain.

Overdose deaths from heroin laced with fentanyl have been reported along the East Coast, including in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island and New York, police said. Heroin laced with fentanyl is suspected in at least 50 recent fatal overdoses in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Maryland.

It is packaged in glassine baggies stamped “Ace of Spades” and “Aces of Hearts.” The deadly mix of the drugs has street nicknames of “Theraflu,” “Bud Ice,” and “24K,” according to police. When a user injects fentanyl, it affects the central nervous system and brain, and since it is more powerful it leads to trouble breathing or they even stop breathing as the drug sedates the user.

In response to the deadly threat, detectives from the Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts state troopers and an FBI agent took part in an operation Thursday to try to get some of the drug off the streets. A reporter and photographer from The Eagle-Tribune, a sister paper of The Daily News, accompanied some of the officers.

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