Last Wednesday on Connections, the supervisor of the drug section in the Monroe County Crime Laboratory warned about a new drug trend. Jim Wesley told us that heroin is back in big numbers, but perhaps even more concerning is the new composition of heroin.
His warning came just four days before actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead with a needle in his arm and bags of heroin on the floor.
"The heroin that comes into our lab used to be either pure heroin, or sometimes it was cut with sugar," Wesley explained. "Heroin is always dangerous, but most of the time, users knew what they were getting. Now, they don't."
The difference is that 64% of the heroin cases analyzed by the Monroe County Crime Lab now feature heroin that is cut with far more dangerous substances. Often the heroin is cut with caffeine, but sometimes the heroin is cut with procaine or Fentanyl, a drug used to alleviate pain in cancer patients. When users don't know it's combined with heroin, it can be deadly.
"The drug dealers aren't cutting heroin with Fentanyl to kill people," Wesley said. "They're doing it to make heroin more addictive. But it's also more dangerous. So if you stick a needle in your arm, it might be the last thing you ever do. It's just that unpredictable."
Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died Sunday after a drug overdose; on Monday, several police sources told various news outlets that Hoffman took heroin that was likely laced with Fentanyl. It's unknown whether Hoffman knew the heroin he was taking was blended with other substances. But Wesley says most users simply expect that when they're buying heroin, they're getting pure heroin.
Last week in western Pennsylvania, more than 20 people died after taking what police described as "bad heroin." Officers are trying to track the source of that heroin, and it's possible the blended heroin is spreading rapidly to other states.
In 2011, Rochester saw one of the lowest levels of heroin cases in many years: fewer than 100 cases, and a total of a few hundred bags of heroin confiscated. In 2012, that number more than doubled to 256 cases and 898 bags of heroin. In 2013, a single case of heroin included more than 1,000 bags of heroin, much of it blended.