Drug trend ups heroin strength

Published 7:36 pm Wednesday, January 18, 2017


As the prevalence of heroin use continues to rise in the U.S., the number of overdoses are a direct correlation.

What most people don’t know is one of the reasons behind many overdoses: drug dealers mixing, or “cutting,” the drug with filler, along with much stronger opioids in an effort to stretch out the product, is sending people to the hospital.

According to Lt. Russell Davenport, head of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Drug Unit, the lab results they’ve been getting back from the State Crime Lab often point to fentanyl as the culprit.

“We’ve arrested people for heroin, not knowing that it’s mixed with fentanyl,” Davenport said. “We’ve been hearing about them cutting with fentanyl for the last two years.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used to treat patients with severe pain or to help deal with pain resulting from surgery. It’s similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times stronger.

“The fentanyl makes it stronger. They can mix that fentanyl with ‘cut’ and heroin and make it go farther. But they’re not chemists. They don’t know how much to use,” Davenport said.

From January to August of 2016, nine Beaufort County residents were taken to the emergency department at Vidant Beaufort Hospital because of heroin overdoses; 33 people visited the emergency room for other heroin-related issues; 19 for opioid overdoses; and 100 for other medicine or drug overdoses, according to Beaufort County Health Department statistics.

Davenport said he isn’t sure how many heroin overdoses are due to use of fentanyl.

“Of course, the people that we’re seeing overdosing on heroin are also on pain pills,” he said.

There is an additional danger in using fentanyl-laced heroin, he warned. It’s often prescribed in patch form because the drug can be absorbed through the skin — one doesn’t have to be purposefully using the drug to be affected by it.

“It’s dangerous stuff,” Davenport said. “With the heroin we see, you don’t know what you’re getting. They could cut it with anything, so it’s definitely a dangerous drug.”