Sussex County deaths linked to tainted heroin

Statewide total rises to six
Officials say the number of fentanyl-related heroin deaths confirmed in March and April have reached epidemic proportions. SOURCE FILE
May 19, 2014

Two Sussex County heroin deaths have been connected to a fentanyl additive, according to a report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

To date, toxicology reports confirm the Sussex deaths were part of six statewide in which heroin was laced with fentanyl and used between March 20 and April 5. The state's first fentanyl-laced heroin death was announced May 9.

The Sussex County deaths occurred March 29, and involved a 28-year-old woman and a 46-year-old man, said Jill Fredel, communications director for the Department of Health and Social Services.

Statewide, she said, the deaths included four men and two women, ranging in age from 28 to 58; five were from Delaware, one was from Maryland, Besides Sussex County, she said, the other deaths occurred in New Castle County. During the last outbreak of fentanyl-tainted heroin overdoses in 2006, seven deaths occurred in Delaware.

Fentanyl is a synthetic painkiller that is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin. Mixed with heroin, it produces a stronger high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl-laced heroin has been blamed for dozens of deaths across the United States this year, including 28 confirmed deaths in Philadelphia in March and April. Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Michigan also have reported fentanyl-related overdose deaths this year.

“This number of deaths in such a short period of time qualifies as an epidemic,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of DHSS’ Division of Public Health. “The Division of Public Health will be educating health care providers and the general public about this crisis.”

In January, the Delaware Information and Analysis Center distributed an alert to all law enforcement agencies warning residents that fentanyl-laced heroin was likely to arrive in the state. Because illicit fentanyl can come in white powder form like heroin, users don’t know the fentanyl is mixed in. The fentanyl-heroin mix can be sold on the street with names like “Thor,” “Black Dahlia,” “New Arrival,” Thera Flu,” “7 of Hearts,” “China White,” “Shine” and “New World” stamped on the bags.

“Troopers will continue to combat the scourge of heroin in our state through continued active and aggressive investigations, including joint investigations and criminal intelligence sharing with our partners from all local, regional, and federal law enforcement agencies,” said Sgt. Paul G. Shavack, spokesman for the Delaware State Police.

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